State’s Reval Order Stirs Ruckus with Urban Mayors

By David Cruz

A revaluation — or a reval — occurs when a town reassesses the value of its properties to bring those assessments into line with the market values. The assessments are used to set the local property tax rate. In a lot of cities, market values and assessed values are way out of whack, meaning that some homeowners have been paying more and some have been paying less than their fair share.

“The long and short of it is, depending on what the market values of the municipalities are and the market condition at the time of the revaluation can create substantial increases in the assessed values, which would lead to substantial increases in their resulting tax bill,” said Tom Stack, whose family firm has been handling tax appeals for nearly a century.

That prospect might explain why you’d be hard-pressed to find a New Jersey mayor eager to perform a property reval. This week, the state ordered three cities — Elizabeth, Dunellen, and Jersey City — to perform a reval by November of 2017. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop says he knows why Gov. Chris Christie is ordering his city to perform a reval.

“When you look at the letter from Christie to Jersey City, it says it needs to be done by November of 2017. That’s election not only year, but month, so why did he not choose December or April or August?” asked Fulop rhetorically. “Because it is what it is. It’s political and we’re going to call him out on it.”

The Treasury Department strongly disagreed with his assertion, citing state regulations which stipulate that property tax revaluations must be completed by Nov. 1.

Fulop says the governor should be treating all of the delinquent cities equally, rather than singling out his city. Politics is one thing, he says, but a reval is potentially going to hurt real people, who have nothing to do with politics.

“Yes, your taxes maybe could go down $200, $300 a year; I would argue it but I’ll concede the point, however your property value could go down $50,000, $75,000, $100,000. There’s no winners in that situation,” he cautioned.

The state says more than 30 towns have waited more than a quarter of a century to perform a reval.

“We selected three towns that were the worst offenders in their respective counties based on objective criteria,” they said in a statement. “Any suggestion that this action is partisan in nature is a specious argument and an insult to the dedicated professionals at the Division of Taxation.”

It goes without saying that Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage disagrees with that. But, he says, regardless of the governor’s motivation, a reval will be a body blow to a city working hard to provide services as it is. The impact on his city?

“The overall taxes paid by the constituency in my city will increase after a revaluation and sometimes drastically,” said Bollwage. “And this argument that’s put forth by the state of New Jersey and the media, that one-third of property taxes will increase and one-third will decrease and one-third will stay the same is complete fiction.”

On top of that, it’s going to cost Elizabeth about $4 million to conduct a reval. In Jersey City — where an aborted reval from a few years ago has already cost almost $2 million — the final price tag could hit $8 million. Is it any wonder why so many towns have waited decades to do this?