By LINDA MOSS
Last week inspectors started visiting properties in Montclair, a municipality with some of the highest taxes in the state, to kick off the township’s revaluation. The process will involve on-site visits to roughly 11,000 places and take until November to complete.
Township Tax Assessor George Librizzi and Brian Schneider, a vice president at Delran-based Professional Property Appraisers Inc., announced that inspectors were hitting the pavement at a meeting last Wednesday, March 8, where they presented an overview about how the revaluation process will work.
The roughly 200 attendees at the session last week, a standing-room-only audience at the Township Council Chambers, had a wide array of questions. But many were fearful about what they consider their pricey local tax bills increasing even more after the revaluation, which aims to update properties’ assessments to their market value.
“Everybody in this room, I would guess, is paying outrageously high taxes,” resident Glenn Collins said at the meeting.
“I’ve lived in town for many decades and I’ve been through many revaluations, and I would have to say that I have never been part of a revaluation where my taxes got lower,” said Collins, whose comments sparked applause.
“Last year my taxes in Montclair went up $1,000. I would venture to say that for a lot of people in this room their taxes went up more, maybe some less. Let’s say $1,000 is an average. If you’re going to increase people’s taxes $1,000 a year, every year, within 10 years you would have a ghost town and Essex County would have a ghost town.”
Librizzi told residents that if they have an issue with the amount of taxes they pay in Montclair, or the township’s $207 million tax levy, “I don’t have the power to change that.”
He added, “You need to visit the school board, visit the mayor and council or see the county freeholders.”
Property taxes in New Jersey are high compared to the rest of the nation, and Montclair’s are high compared to the rest of the state. New Jersey has the highest average property tax rate, 2.35 percent, in the United States, according to a survey by Wallethub.com. And the township’s average local property tax bill ranks as the 13th highest in the Garden State, based on data from the state Department of Community Affairs.
The average home in Montclair is now assessed at $504,500, with the homeowner paying annual municipal taxes of $18,921. The Township Council last week introduced an $85.8 million 2018 budget that would increase taxes on average $114 annually.
At the revaluation meeting, Schneider explained that technology has advanced far beyond what it was 10 years ago during the town’s last full revaluation, with field inspectors now updating and inputting assessment data directly into a tablet. PPA has about a half dozen inspectors, who will have photo ID badges, and will be in Montclair, starting their exterior and interior visits south of Bloomfield Avenue, according to Schneider.
“We have to make three attempts,” he said. “It’s to your benefit to let us in. We’re appraisers. We just want to make sure the data is accurate. … We’re not permit police.”
In addition to the revaluation a decade ago, in 2011 the township did a reassessment, which didn’t entail on-site visits by inspectors, for the 2012 tax year.
With this year’s revaluation property owners will receive letters informing them of their new valuations in November and December, and can set up meetings to come to the municipal complex to discuss them with PPA officials if they are dissatisfied or feel there has been a mistake regarding their property.
Right now, the town has a so-called equalization factor of about 80 percent, meaning that homes are only assessed at 80 percent of their market value, which is one reason the revaluation was ordered by the Essex County Board of Taxation and the state, officials said at the presentation. So on average, assessments are lagging behind actual sale prices on properties.
“The market is very robust in Montclair right now,” Librizzi said. “The market is extremely strong.”
The revaluation is meant to put homes on an equal playing field in terms of their true value, to spread the tax burden equally, and to limit the town’s exposure in terms of tax appeals, Schneider said. If a homeowner isn’t in when an inspector stops by, the inspector will leave a card saying when he or she will come back to do an interior inspection. A property owner can contact PPA then, by phone or email, if they want to set up a different, more convenient time, according to Schneider.
Property owners who don’t give inspectors access to building interiors risk having estimates made for their assessments, officials said.
Susan Horowitz, a Montclair Realtor who was one of about 20 real estate agents who attended the meeting, said that a lot of people who initially look for homes in Montclair end up buying in Bloomfield or Cedar Grove because of the taxes. She asked what was missing in the township to help underwrite the cost of services to residents.
The problem is the town’s lack of commercial ratables, which in Montclair account for only about 15 percent of the municipality’s $5.7 billion tax base, with the remaining 85 percent residential properties, hence the high taxes for local homeowners.
Several residents said that Montclair’s high taxes essentially lower the value of their homes because would-be buyers are put off by them, or factor them in, essentially shaving all or part of the township’s taxes off the proposed sale price.
This year’s revaluation will take effect for the 2018 tax year. PPA has a $887,000 contract to do the work for the township.
Montclair’s 2016 tax rate was $3.634 per $100 of the assessed value of a property, according to Librizzi. Tax rates generally drop in the year of a revaluation, he said. But it is hard to gauge whether a particular property’s taxes will increase or decrease because there are numerous factors involved in calculating the bill, Librizzi said.
“There are so many moving parts … It’s hard to generalize,” he said.