Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon and the members of the Monmouth County Tax Boards announced reforms to the controversial Assessment Demonstration Program yesterday. The changes are designed to address the volatility in property valuations that taxpayers have been experiencing during the early years of the pilot program’s implementation.
In addition to making appropriate adjustments to the program, O’Scanlon told MMM that he his hopeful that municipal officials will focus on the program itself, and not the controversy over the allegations of conflicts of interests among assessors, Tax Administrator Matthew Clark, and the vendors working the program, when deciding whether to continue their participation participation in 2017. The Tax Board announced last month that towns can opt out of the program for 2017 by April 29, 2016.
“The fundamentals of the program are sound” said Assemblyman O’Scanlon “We haven’t created the concept of revaluations with this program – we have made modifications to the extremely inefficient and much more expensive valuation process that has existed for decades. It is inescapable that when done right – with the modifications we announce here today – that the new system will be a better, less expensive and more fair one than the old.”
In their statement, O’Scanlon and Tax Board Members James Stuart, Cliff Moore, Kathy Cody Bjelka, and Wayne Pomanowski said they were revising the program as follows:
1.To address concerns of the revision of appeal judgments: Approximation of Freeze Act within annual reassessments model:
- appeal judgement shall be effectively “frozen” for a three-year period and only adjusted at a rate of change commensurate with that which has been observed in the market. In other words, if the market rises at two percent, the assessment awarded through appeal can only be increased by two percent. This would effectively result in a net neutral impact on actual taxes owed on a given property. This is similar to the Freeze Act under the old system. The details are being worked out by the Board and should be in place for the submission of the 2017 assessments. For 2016 assessments, since those assessments are already in place, the Tax Board will approximate this policy on an individual basis. Also for 2016, the Tax Board has required each assessor to explain any change to a 2015 appeal judgment greater than 5%.
- To address year-over-year assessment volatility: Use of “3 year sampling”:
- Text from “Year 3 Implementation Requirement”:
Research and review all sales within the municipality occurring in the last 36 months. This triples the present sampling period and will dramatically reduce year-over-year volatility.
- Post year Debit and Credit adjustment for County shared levies based on actual sales as opposed to the “forecasted” Directors ratio that can be flawed by the inclusion or exclusion of useable sales data. The intent would be to provide for a mechanism that would perform as follows:
- Recalculate the prior-year’s equalized values based on the inclusion of recent useable sales and
- Recalculate the apportionment of the county levies based on the revised equalized values
- Incorporate the difference of the original apportionment and the revised apportionment as a “debit and credit” to the current years apportionment process
- Establish an enhanced County Tax Board review process that validates that the Preliminary Tax Lists submitted by the municipalities are either accurately equalized to market value or are submitted to market value. The concern is that in running both the “old model” and the ADP in parallel – inaccurate submissions could cause a shift in county levy from towns that are undervalued to towns that are at 100% of market value.
- Validate submission of towns equalizing static assessments: Create a County Tax Board process to review the inclusion and exclusion of sales data utilized in the development of the Directors Table of Equalized Valuations and the “Assessed- value to Market-value ratio” that is utilized in the Equalization of municipal assessments for the purpose of apportioning shared county levies.
- Validate submission of towns practicing annual reassessments: Expand the current process of reviewing the preliminary tax list to validate valuation to current market value.
“The program was designed as a pilot program so we could have the opportunity to make adjustments. We’ve heard the voices of our taxpayers and local officials and today announce significant modifications to the program that will address the bulk of the issues brought to our attention to date” said Tax Board Chairman Jim Stuart, “But we won’t be stopping here. Board members will be meeting with local officials on an ongoing basis to answer questions and get input as well.”
“While some towns have expressed interest in potentially opting-out of the program, it is my hope that local residents and officials will take a legitimate hard look at these modifications – and take advantage of the Tax Board’s ongoing outreach efforts – over the next several months prior to making any decision about the program.” said Board member Cliff Moore, “With these, and other modifications that may be implemented as a result of further outreach, we hope to eliminate any sound reason for a municipality to choose the old, much less fair and much more expensive system over the new one.
“For over a month I have been meeting one on one with Township Officials, Condominium Associations, Freeholders, legislators and just plain taxpayers.” Said Board Member Wayne Pomanowski, “We want Monmouth County taxpayers to know our board hears you loud and clear. Right now I am a full time Tax Commissioner and will remain so until the changes that are called for are made. I have every confidence we can resolve all of the issues raised and swiftly.”
“I implore taxpayers to keep the pressure on their state elected officials to reduce taxes through tax reform. The Tax board responsibilities revolve around assessments and the fair application of ratios and levies not about overall tax amounts.” said Tax Commissioner Kathy Cody Bjelka.
“When I heard about the concerns over the program my staff and I immediately went into action to respond to the issues raised by our constituents and local officials. Today’s announcement is the beginning of the fruits of those labors. Since the deadline to file to opt out won’t be until the spring, we hope municipal officials will work with the Tax Board between now and then to both help improve upon, and fully understand, the new system. We will continue to communicate with our constituents and local officials to ensure every question is addressed and every concern answered” concluded Assemblyman O’Scanlon.