Angry residents pack Galloway council meeting to protest 30 percent tax hike

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GALLOWAY – Residents of the Four Seasons development and elsewhere in the township are angry over tax rate increases reflected in their bills. And with the grace period ending today, Aug. 20, people had plenty to say during the Council meeting Tuesday night.

More than 200 people lined up to enter the meeting at the Municipal Complex. Many had to wait outside until others left.

But for those who were inside, their voices were definitely, sometimes loudly, heard.

Mayor Don Purdy took questions from the audience, veering from the meeting's agenda.

Suzanne Martenz, who lives in the Four Seasons, held a sign saying “Unfair. Don't Care” regarding the increase which brought the tax rate up to $2.94 per $100 of assessed valuation. Her tax rate went up $1,700 and now she will be paying $7,000.

Dominick Moretti, another Four Seasons resident, said seniors should not be taxed at the same rate as those with children in the district.

“Seniors paid that high rate when they had children in the schools,” he said.

Some residents shouted from the audience. The mayor told the residents that he understood why they were angry and that the township will do its best to alleviate the situation with proposals to correct some of the problems.

Purdy emphasized to the sometimes raucous crowd that 61 percent of the tax rate comes from school taxes, 22 percent come from the municipal taxes, and the remainder comes from the county.

But that didn't seem to matter to disgruntled residents who filled the room.

In addition to losing property values, the trickle-down effect of casino closings with more closings possibly to come and the lack of ratables are the major issues in the harsh landscape in the township.

“We lost $830 million in ratables. That is hard to make up,” Purdy said, adding that the town is on a roller-coaster scenario.

Bill Hughes, who is running for Congress, was at Tuesday night's meeting.

"There were warning signs for a long time,” he told The Current. “With the casinos closing, we need to diversify and attract businesses to the area. From a federal perspective, we should have been diversifying the economics."

The mayor said the town is doing an internal audit to determine if the numbers (assessed value of the homes and businesses) are accurate. Township Manager Susan Jacobucci is also meeting with property owners. So far, 40 have come to her office to go over their assessments and make sure they are correct.

Purdy said he would hold a special meeting in the near future to go over the reassessments conducted over the past couple of years by Vital Communication. He expects the tax collector to be present as well. The meeting date will be advertised in the newspapers and on the township website.

“The values of homes fell so much and the taxes did not reflect that,” Purdy told a packed room. He wants Vital to explain the discrepancies.

He said some properties decreased in value by as much as $50,000 – including some at the Four Seasons and several condominiums – yet the taxes went up.

“Taxes are going crazy. I'm not mad at you,” Purdy said during the forum in which he stood with a mic at the middle of the room to address questions. Some residents scoffed at his answers. Some spoke while he tried to explain things.

For the past several years some homeowners appealed their assessments. The result meant a break in their taxes, but this year's rate brought steep increases to make up for the township’s loss.

Purdy said the numbers just don't add up. He said because of the volume of tax appeals, the township has had to make up for it to the tune of a three-year $6 million loan.

“Galloway never took out a loan like that before,” Purdy said. “We have to pay it back, and we need the money to do that.”

Purdy urged residents to attend the Aug. 25 school board meeting to air their concerns. The mayor said he would also attend the meeting.

School officials were invited to attend Tuesday night's meeting, but opted not to. Some members of the audience shouted that they should have been present.

Absegami High School is a part of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District.

GEHR District Superintendent John Keenan, who is new to the district, commented on the tax increase late Tuesday night.

“The Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District tax increase for Galloway this year, based on an average assessed home of $300,000, was $83,” Keenan said. “The high school was not the reason for the significant tax increase during the township's period of reassessment. We continue to cut and implement efficiencies while trying never to compromise the quality of our programs. We, too, are being asked to do more with less as our state aid is reduced."

Galloway Public Schools Superintendent Annette Giaquinto said in an email Friday, Aug. 15, “Our school district budget, like most districts in New Jersey, is the largest portion of a resident’s taxes. This is due, in large part, to the way schools are funded in New Jersey along with the amount of state aid provided to a school district.”

She further stated that this year’s real estate tax increase in Galloway, as well as increases for the past five years, is not mainly due to the school district budget. In fact, during the past five years the school district budget has ranged from absolutely no increase to a maximum of 2 percent on the tax levy which is allowed by law.

“The board and administration are quite cognizant of the economy in this area and work diligently to maintain a budget that is both fair to the taxpayers, while providing our students a quality education in safe schools.” Giaquinto said.

In addition, Giaquinto urged residents to attend school board meeting in Aug. 25.

To view the school budget visit www.gtps.k12.nj.us .


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