Jersey City Councilman Steven Fulop has a plan to help city residents struggling to pay their property taxes in tough economic times.
Fulop said he will introduce an ordinance at the Wednesday, Jan. 13 council meeting to allow homeowners to pay the city over a three-year period if they show proof that they will have difficulties paying their taxes.
He said giving residents more time to pay their taxes may help them avoid the city placing a tax lien on their homes, as well as foreclosure.
“It forces other taxpayers to make up the difference.” – Michael Sottolano
Fulop’s plan has provisions such as:
• Allowing homeowners to qualify if they are currently collecting unemployment, or have fallen into a difficult personal financial situation and have applied to a bank for a loan that has not been granted.
• Ensuring that the city can only accrue interest on the delinquent payment rather than the entire tax bill.
• Establishing a council-created subcommittee to review residents’ applications with a recommendation from the tax collector.
“You start the tax lien process and people start to lose their home; it affects the whole neighborhood around them,” Fulop said.
Fulop said his plan came about because residents contacted his office asking for help on their tax bills.
He noted that the city has raised taxes over 11 percent so far in the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, and could raise taxes even higher in a “difficult” budget year.
The city’s current budget has not been introduced and is six months late. Last year’s budget was $474 million, and $151.3 million of it had to be raised through property taxes. The rest came largely from state and federal aid.
Pay now or really pay later
Property taxes in Jersey City are paid on a quarterly basis: Feb. 1, May 1, Aug. 1 and Nov. 1. They can be paid in person, mailed to the Tax Collector’s Office in City Hall, paid online through the city’s website: www.cityofjerseycity.com, or deducted from one’s checking account.
Those who pay their taxes late face a penalty of 18 percent on the remaining amount. Fulop’s plan calls for lower or zero interest rates on delinquent taxes depending on the situation.
City spokesperson Jennifer Morrill said last week that Mayor Jerramiah Healy and his administration have Fulop’s ordinance “under review” and could not comment until they looked at it further.
But city officials are already privately and publicly taking issue with Fulop’s proposal.
City Councilman Michael Sottolano said there is a “lot more” that has to be considered by Fulop.
“When you put people into a partial payment plan like that, you are increasing your delinquent taxes, and it forces other taxpayers to make up the difference,” Sottolano said. “It gets expensive.”
Sottolano also pointed out that many of the people whom Fulop is trying to help are homeowners who are not paying a mortgage on their home (in which case, their taxes would be paid by the mortgage company) but instead own their home outright, and are paying their taxes directly to the city. Those who own their home and don’t make mortgage payments, Sottolano said, can go to a bank and get a loan from the bank based on the value of the property.
Some believe Fulop’s measure only postpones an inevitable foreclosure or other problems for a taxpayer.
Others say Fulop’s proposal could just be passed as an amendment to a current ordinance that allows homeowners to request to pay their taxes in installments.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.