Hold on to your hats! A scary political wind will shortly start to blow through Jersey City, now that the City Council has voted to approve a contract for a firm to undertake a new reevaluation of property.
A divided council adopted an ordinance on Sept. 14 that begins – or actually, restarts – the first revaluation of Jersey City private property since 1988. An accompanying resolution appropriates a total of $5 million to cover the cost of the process, including a $4.4 million contract with an appraisal company.
A revaluation adjusts a property’s taxable value to its actual market value, a politically unpopular move because it raises taxes on many older properties. These older homes are valued based on what they sold for decades ago. In fact, officials estimate the average Jersey City home is assessed at somewhere around 27 percent of its current market value, a paper average calculated from older homes which are under-assessed and newer homes valued at one hundred percent market value, the basic inequity the revaluation is designed to correct.
Although the city attempted a revaluation three years ago, Mayor Steven Fulop ordered it halted after taking office in July 2013, claiming the process that selected Realty Appraisals of West New York, the firm overseeing the revaluation, was flawed. The company sued for the money it is contractually owed, a court ruled in its favor, and the city is currently appealing that judgment.
“I think it was wrong for the mayor to have canceled the first revaluation.” – Richard Boggiano
Politicians often delay revals as long as possible. Mayor Fulop’s predecessor also found a reason to delay the revaluation but wasn’t re-elected anyway.
The new revaluation could have huge political implications if the voters approve a referendum this November moving 2017 municipal elections from May to November, the deadline to have the revaluation finished. And some council members weren’t waiting until then to try to squeeze political advantage out of the issue.
Councilmen Richard Boggiano and Michael Yun both voted against the two measures to restart the revaluation. Yun said he was uncomfortable with the fact that Matthew O’Donnell, the attorney the city hired by the review committee on the contract, has offices located in the same Morristown building where Appraisal Systems, the firm awarded the contract, is located.
City officials, however, said the attorney had no connection to the appraisal company.
Boggiano said he believes the city was wrong in canceling the first revaluation, and said he voted against this one because he felt it is a waste of taxpayer’s money.
“I think it was wrong for the mayor [Fulop] to have canceled the first revaluation,” he said. He advocated giving the contract back to Realty Appraisal.
Objections like these are moot, however, because earlier this year, state officials ordered Jersey City to perform the reevaluation.
Appraisal Systems submitted the low bid out of three submitted. The inspections of homes are expected to begin in November, after approval of the Appraisal Systems contract by the state.
Boggiano said he is concerned about the impact the revaluation will have on long time residents of Jersey City, especially in the environment of widespread tax abatements that have resulted in what he sees as significant disparities in property values.
Although critics like Boggiano believe the revaluation will have a huge negative effect on older homes when taxed on their increased market value, Mayor Fulop has argued that a revaluation increases the total value of property throughout the city, which has also experienced a boom in property development under his administration.
Thus, he argues, funding the city operating budget will come out of a larger pool of money, which could mean a more moderate increase in individual property taxes, or in the case of properties taxed at most recent market values, even a reduction. It is also possible for property owners to challenge the city’s price tag on their home if they feel the value is too high.
Fulop has also been lobbying state legislator to change state laws to help protect long time property owners from sharp increases as a result of reevaluations.
The city will be issuing a letter and brochure to property owners over the next few weeks explain the process, officials said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Council votes against circuses that use animal acts
In what was largely a symbolic act last week, the council adopted an ordinance to ban circuses that use animal acts. But because the city has not actually hosted a circus in decades, the ordinance becomes only a minor victory for a number of animal rights activists who lobbied the city for the ban. This is part of a larger nationwide movement to force circuses to do away with animal acts.
Councilman Frank Gatjewski voted against the ordinance, saying it had no meaning in Jersey City, and Councilwoman Joyce Watterman abstained.
While a number of activists attended the meeting and cheered after the vote, no one from the circus industry attended or submitted objections. But Ringling Brothers Circus has issued public statements over the last few months disputing many of the claims used by the activists about the treatment and training of animals.
The industry has also disputed some of these claims that were made in an article in The New York Times which was quoted in a presentation to the City Council last month. Circus industry statements said many of the claims were either outdated or inaccurate, and that the activists did not accurately represent the treatment of animals used in circus acts.
Although Jersey City officials admitted that circuses do not take place in Jersey City, they noted that such events do take place nearby in places like Bayonne and in the Meadowlands. Bayonne hosted a circus last summer.