Council cancels revaluation for 2013

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Brigantine City Council met on Wednesday, Nov. 21 to pass three resolutions dealing with the aftereffects of Superstorm Sandy. The meeting started with a quorum composed of Mayor Phil Guenther and Councilmen Sam Storino, Steve Bonanni and Rick DeLucry.

Prior to the resolutions being approved, Council had a discussion led by City Manager Jennifer Blumenthal on the state of the island’s current revaluation. This one-line mention in the council agenda took up the majority of time spent by council.

Blumenthal said that Vital Communications, the company contracted to conduct the real estate revaluation, had completed about two-thirds of the island, with the golf course area the next section to complete. Properties in this area, along with the north end of the island, were damaged by record flooding due to Sandy. Based on Vital’s recommendation, Blumenthal asked council to postpone the project until later in 2013 once homeowners had the opportunity to repair damages.

Blumenthal confirmed that Vital would restart the process in May 2013 and charge the city the agreed rate in the current contract, resulting in no additional charge. The new revaluation would take effect January 1, 2014.

On Nov. 20, the Atlantic County Board of Taxation sent a letter to municipalities titled ‘Tax Assessment Reduction for Storm Damage.’ In it, homeowners were advised that they may qualify for a reduction in assessment for the tax year 2012 if their property was destroyed or significantly damaged between Oct. 1, 2012 and Jan. 1, 2013, providing that the homeowner notified their municipality’s tax assessor before Jan. 10.

Blumenthal said there are Assessment Review forms available at the tax assessor’s office for anyone who feels they have been impacted significantly. Significantly is the key word, as a property’s assessed value is generally 90 to 95 percent land value and only 5 to 10 percent building value. This form will be also be posted for download on the city’s website,

The New Jersey Division of Taxation recommends using certified mail, return receipt requested, for proof that the notice was received before Jan. 10. This is very important.

It was also recommended that homeowners “take pictures of the damage immediately, because it is possible that the assessor may not be able to inspect your property in a timely manner. After inspection by the assessor, a determination will be made of the amount of reduction, if any, in assessed value.”

City Solicitor Tim Maguire suggested keeping copies of any letters from your homeowner’s insurance company.

The delay in the revaluation, the anticipated tax appeals, and the recent damage and clean-up charges incurred by the city will impact the budget process for the city in fiscal year 2013. The city was already looking at a budget with more than a million-dollar shortfall for 2013, and the loss of potential tax revenue will worsen the problem.

City Council has already approved a bond ordinance (allowed by state statute) that will make up a significant part of the previous loss of tax revenue due to the loss of ratables. Based on current state guidelines, the city does not have this option going forward.

Other municipalities also have this problem, particularly those from Long Beach Island up through Belmar who suffered significantly more than Brigantine.

The initial state estimate of damage from Sandy was $29.4 billion, which is 30 times greater than Hurricane Irene. Gov. Christie recently revised that figure to $37 billion including cost of mitigation, protection and prevention of future disasters.

FEMA damage assessments using aerial imagery and other sources list about 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey damaged by the storm, with more than 500 completely destroyed, 5,000 suffering major damage from flooding and wind, 24,000 with minor damage, and tens of thousands more with other water damage. This is unprecedented in state history, and press reports indicate that state legislators are looking for ways to mitigate the impact to local municipalities’ tax revenues.

The mayor and city manager noted additional programs available to homeowners, such as the New Jersey HomeKeeper Program and FEMA grants. FEMA offers an Increased Cost of Compliance Coverage (ICC) which helps homeowners elevate their homes. Information is available at City Hall.

The Small Business Administration is offering low-cost loans to homeowners and businesses. However, local business owners have found that they can get lower rates from commercial banks. The SBA program appears to help those who have credit issues and cannot get assistance elsewhere.

The mayor said that some insurers have a general policy of advancing a percentage of the damages, generally 20 percent, once public insurance adjusters have inspected the property.

Blumenthal offered her office’s services to renters who are having problems with their landlords as well as homeowners who are having problems with their insurance companies. Legal remedies are available.

Council then approved the following resolutions: 2012-171, which “waives certain construction fees associated with Tropical Storm Sandy;” 2012-172, which “waives rental fee inspection fee for rentals associated with Tropical Storm Sandy;” and 2012-173, which “waives water shutoffs associated with Tropical Storm Sandy.” Copies of the resolutions are available on the city’s website and at City Hall.

The next city council meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5 in council chambers at City Hall. The meeting agenda and supporting documents are available at before the meeting.

The Beachcomber News, as Brigantine’s official newspaper of record, publishes all city legal notices.

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