Reassessment plans breeze through City Council

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SOMERS POINT - Don't fear the coming property reassessment - it just might result in a break in your taxes.

That point was reiterated at the Somers Point City Council meeting Sept. 27. Council approved a special emergency appropriation in the amount of $300,000 for the preparation and execution of a complete program of property revaluation -- or reassessment - to take place early next year.

City tax assessor Diane Hesley made a presentation to council before the vote on the emergency appropriation, which will fund in-house preparation of the reassessment, salary and wages of the field listers who will actually conduct the property inspections, and an extensive public relations campaign to explain the program to veterans groups, seniors, condominium residents, and other property owners.

"The last time we did this (in the late 1990s) the public relations program seemed to be very successful when it got into the actual reassessment phase," Hesley said. "We would also be looking to start inspections fairly quickly. We'll be doing re-inspections of old properties starting in February, and continue through the spring and summer. Values will be placed on the books for the 2014 tax year."

Taxes went up approximately $25 for the average Somers Point property owner this year, primarily due to a 2.01 cent increase in the tax rate over the previous year. The average taxpayer with an assessed property value of $126,197 paid $1,633 in municipal property taxes in 2012.

Hesley said there is actually an advantage to the homeowner to allow the field listers in the door.

"Our main goal is to look at the property to determine the market value," she said. "When you don't let the inspector into the property, then we have to make an estimate based on what we feel could possibly be in that home."

As an example, Hesley said that if a lister who is denied access to a home sees there are windows with curtains in the basement, the lister will make an assumption that the home has a finished basement, raising the property value.

"It's best to let the assessor in to get accurate information, because the final result is the value of the property," Hesley said. "So having misinformation could actually set up the wrong calculation for the value, which would in turn be setting up the tax base for the next year."

Hesley said many people have a "misconception" that a reassessment is for raising taxes. She said the objective is for everyone to be treated fairly, that the assessments are fair or equitable to each other.

"The last time we did a revaluation was in the late 1990s," she said. "Since that time the real estate market has changed drastically, it has gone up and down. But right now the assessment averages about 50 percent of what the market is doing. Our goal is to make sure we list the information and come up with the most probable market price of the property, and when the whole value of the town goes up, we re-calculate based on the budgets what the new tax rate would be. As an example, if you double the assessments and the budgets stay exactly the same, the tax rate would be primarily cut in half."

She said the only way a resident would see an increase in taxes would be if the assessment is grossly under the average of the city as a whole. Conversely, a resident could see a drop in taxes if the assessment is grossly over the average.

Councilman Dennis Tapp summed up the presentation: "If you don't let them in, you could wind up paying more taxes. So, let the field listers in."

Council unanimously approved the emergency appropriation for the reassessment.

In other council news, Mayor Jack Glasser said he will send a letter to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and state Department of Transportation requesting improvements needed to Route 9 in conjunction with the $210 million project that will replace a bridge and create a pedestrian/bicycle walkway over Great Egg Harbor Bay.

Glasser said there is currently no shoulder on Route 9 from Somers Point-Mays Landing Road to the proposed walkway, so access to the new mixed-use walkway could be treacherous unless improvements are made. Work is scheduled to begin in March and be completed by the end of 2016. 

Also, council approved the full-time hiring of three individuals - Kathy Rosenberger, Shelby Mollenkopf and Meghan Shiffler - who had been holding part-time positions in the city Finance Department, Clerk's Office and Tax Clerk's Office. Councilman Howard Dill said the full time hires were affordable and addressed the needs of the city to provide better service to residents.

Also at the council meeting, city administrator Wes Swain said the city saved more than $645,000 through the sale of municipal bonds in an auction last month. The winning bid for the $6.8 million worth of general improvement and water-sewer utility bonds was submitted by Janney Montgomery Scott. "As a taxpaying citizen," council president Sean McGuigan said, "if you tell me we're going to save that kind of money, I'm pretty excited about that." 


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