Joseph Hottendorf, the president of Hudson County’s Liberty Board of Realtors, is already a well known critic of local governments, and a watchdog over taxes. Now he has taken his vigilance to a new level.
Earlier this month, Hottendorf unveiled a new website: http://njrealestatetaxes.com. The site is designed to give people access to information and provide tools to help them better navigate the complexities of local real estate values and taxes. He also wants property owners to know more about “revals,” which are townwide re-assessments of the current market value of their homes so that they will pay the proper amount of property taxes.
Ultimately, it’s politically unpopular for a mayor to authorize a reval, and the towns of Weehawken and Jersey City, for example, are behind in conducting one. In a reval, homes are reassessed citywide at their current market values, which is sometimes a jolt to homeowners who got comfortable paying their city taxes based on a 25-year-old assessment. Owners of old homes may suddenly have to pay more, while those who purchased homes five or 10 years ago who since then saw the market decline have been paying too much. A reval is meant to make taxes fairer across the board, but those who have to pay more are never happy with it.
“The purpose of this website is to help the residents of New Jersey understand the real estate taxes they pay.” – Joseph Hottendorf
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner said that it wouldn’t make sense for his town to do a reval right now. “Revals are done when we believe they’re necessary,” he said. “They’re very expensive. In Weehawken’s case, we have a building boom going on on the waterfront. Our goal is to tie the next reval in when we have the building boom nearly complete. There are five buildings under construction. It would be very silly to have a reval and have buildings come online and then they’re out of date.”
He added that Weehawken is in the middle of all the towns in the county in terms of the ratio that tells how close homeowners’ payments are to the market value.
Hottendorf said, “After the recent revaluation[s in certain towns], the Liberty Board recognized that both Realtors and homeowners need a better explanation of what a revaluation is, the tax appeal process, and the truth of the increase in real estate taxes by their local schools, municipalities and counties. At this time, there are 10 cities in Hudson County that in the very near future will be required by the state of New Jersey to do a revaluation and more than 100 throughout New Jersey.”
As a helpful tool to understand revaluation and tax appeals, there are three main features to the new website, he said.
It provides a report for any residential property in New Jersey to determine if there is a good chance they can successfully appeal their property taxes. It also provides a multiyear breakdown of the real estate taxes paid to each municipality, school system, and county government for every municipality in New Jersey. And the site has a ranking for every municipality in New Jersey on average taxes paid.
“The purpose of this website is to help the residents of New Jersey understand the real estate taxes they pay,” Hottendorf said. “Taxes change for property owners because of an increase or decline in government spending and the value of real estate. The information provided will assist property owners in determining if they can be eligible for a tax appeal and will also help interpret news articles that quote public officials when municipalities, schools and counties adopt their annual budget. City employees are reluctant to assist taxpayers in appealing their taxes since a successful tax appeal will increase the tax rate. The annual budget headlines are often spectacular, but then weeks later, the homeowners receive their tax bill which contradicts those same headlines.”
Hoboken in the spotlight
One link on the site highlights some of the issues surrounding the 2014 revaluation in Hoboken.
Other links inform property owners how to appeal their taxes. Another link explains what an evaluation is, and still another talks about whether or not a revaluation increases taxes.
Although often focused on Hoboken, Hottendorf said the site is designed to provide information throughout the state.
“More than 100 cities in the state need to do a revaluation,” he said. “The state treasurer should be going after them.”
While Hoboken did a revaluation already, he said, there are things that need to be fixed. Jersey City put its reval process on pause two years ago and has not picked it up.
“Average taxes do not increase because of a reval by a large amount,” Hottendorf said. “It’s local spending [that causes the increases]. In Hoboken [a tax increase] was hidden by using school taxes collected from the new buildings that came on the tax rolls in 2013 and 2014, and [the city never explained] why the taxes collected increased when you increased the number of taxpayers paying county taxes by almost one third.”
In other words, there are more Hoboken residents paying city and county taxes now, and Hottendorf believes that means each taxpayer in town should be paying less than they are, something he believes the city is able to conceal.
Hottendorf said some towns increase taxes and blame the revaluation. This is one of the reasons he set up the website.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.