A taxing situation Increase in tax bills is due to county portion, city says

When Mayor David Roberts introduced his 2001-2002 municipal budget in December of last year with a two-cent reduction on the municipal tax rate, many Hoboken residents believed that they were in for a tax break, if only a small one.

But when the first and second quarter tax bills for 2002 arrived in February, some were shocked because their bills actually had gone up compared to the same quarters from the year before. However, this is because the county tax rate, which is part of the overall tax rate that residents pay, went up by approximately $2 per $1,000 of property taxed from calendar years 2000 to 2001, city officials say. The county rate depends on the county budget, which is decided in the spring of each year following public hearings and is not under the control of the city.

The overall increase caused some property owners to bring their bills to City Council meetings to complain. And anonymous flyers put out throughout the city accused the administration of “fuzzy math.”

But current City Business Administrator Laurie Cotter said last week, “There was no increase in the municipal tax rate. Claims otherwise are just not true.”

When residents get their tax bills, the amount they must pay comes from three entities’ budgets – the school budget, the county budget, and the city budget. The city tax rate is down. School taxes have remained stable for the last eight years.

County taxes have not. According the 2001 certified tax schedule signed by the county’s tax administrator, the county tax rate struck in July of 2001 was $11.39 per $1,000 of assessed property. The previous year’s rate was only $9.36 per $1,000 of assessed property.

Those figures are struck in June or July. They subsequently affect the third and fourth quarters of that calendar year and the subsequent first and second quarters of the new calendar year.

The new 2002 tax figures for the county will not be known until this coming June or July.

Cotter said that the county’s 2001 tax levy, or the amount it must collect from all the cities, was almost $2.7 million higher than it was a year before.

As for the city’s tax rate, it’s actually three cents lower than the same time last year, rather than the originally projected two cents, Cotter said.

Mayor David Roberts’ first city budget, struck last year, affects taxes from July 1, 2001 through June 30, 2002. This 2001-2002 budget raises $17,413,719 in taxes from residents. That creates a municipal tax rate of $7.81 per $1000 of assessed value, Cotter said. Last year’s total municipal tax levy, or the amount to be raised from city taxes, was $16,635,000. This computed to a tax rate of $7.84 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Why is the tax rate lower when the tax levy is higher? It’s because there are more taxpaying properties to contribute, so each property owner can pay a lower rate. An additional $107 million in ratable (taxable) property has come on line from 2001 to 2002, meaning more properties are contributing to the tax base, Cotter said.

Cotter said it is difficult to guess exactly what the third and fourth quarter calendar year tax bills will look like because there are several unknown variables. One is that the city must create a new budget for the 2002-2003 fiscal year in July. That budget will affect the city’s tax rate for the subsequent four quarters.

Mayor Roberts said Wednesday that he currently projects a stable tax rate for next year. “You can expect a flat rate for the municipal portion of the tax bill,” he said.

There is often a change between bills for the first and second halves of the calendar year because of the fact that the new city, county, and school rates are struck in the spring and summer. Since the county strikes a rate for each municipality before it knows what the city budget will be, the third and fourth quarter calendar year tax bills contain estimated amounts. The subsequent first and second quarter bills will then collect the rest of the money needed to meet the tax levy. Therefore, one must compare a year’s worth of bills against the previous year’s worth, rather than the first and second quarter against the third and fourth quarter.

Still too high, some say

While some may understand that the city does not set the county tax rate, they still feel that with $107 million in additional taxpaying properties contributing, city taxes should drop more than a mere three cents per thousand.

Helen Hirsch, a Park Avenue resident and property owner, has spoken on the matter several times at City Council meetings.

“It’s a sham,” said Hirsch Wednesday. Her bill went up over $100. She contends that with all the development going on in the city, her taxes should have gone down much more.

“A two-cent decrease is actually an increase,” she said. “With all of the new buildings that have gone on line, my bill should have gone down. But instead I end up paying more.”

Former City Business Administrator George Crimmins agreed.

“The amount to be raised by taxation has increased by $800,000,” he said. “It’s going to catch up to them.”

There is a limit to how much a ratable increase helps, because at some point, the county begins asking cities to contribute more to the county tax base if the have a greater share of the county’s taxable properties.

One Hudson Street man said Monday that a tax increase is a tax increase, no matter whose fault it is.

“I only write out one check,” said the property owner, who wished to remain anonymous. “It might be different if I was to write out one check to the city and one check to the county, but I don’t. There’s only one check that is made out to the city of Hoboken, and all I know is that this check is bigger than the one I wrote out last year.”

If that resident wants to influence the situation on the county level, he can attend the county budget hearing, usually held in April, May, or June. County officials are finishing up their 2002-2003 budget at the present time and could hold public hearings this month or next.


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