First Revaluation Meeting Brings Answers And Questions: Part I

The first of three information sessions on Roselle Park’s first townwide revaluation since 1981, according to Borough Tax Assessor Gail Scaglione, took place Thursday night. In front of a room full of concerned residents, Mayor Carl Hokanson, the tax assessor, the Borough Attorney, and representatives both from the revaluation firm as well as the Union County Board of Taxation made themselves available for questions, comments, concerns, and suggestions.

The meeting started off with a presentation by Neil Rubinstein and Mark Duda from Realty Appraisal Company, the firm hired by the municipality to conduct the revaluation.

“One of the goals is to treat people fairly,” said Mr. Rubinstein, explaining the purpose of the townwide revaluation, “The ratio between the assessed values in this town and the market value is 27%. What that means is, that typically the homes are worth about four times more than their assessed value . . . At the end of the day the goal is to fairly assess every property in Roselle Park.”

Mr. Rubinstein then stated that the firm’s website (link) would provide an up-to-date status of the revaluation from beginning to end. Additionally, he confirmed that property inspectors would carry three (3) forms of identification – a borough-issued ID, a company ID, and a letter from the borough with Roselle Park Police contact information – so residents could be assuaged of any suspicions.

Stating that inspections would begin in March, Mr. Rubinstein addressed one of the pressing concerns from residents regarding entry to their residences, “In order to accurately appraise your home, we need to go inside the home and see what the interior conditions are, what the finishes are. We realize it’s asking a lot.”

Next, Mark Duda outlined the actual inspection procedure. Claiming that entry rate is typically 90%, Mr. Duda explained that the initial visits to properties will be unannounced and unscheduled, but between work hours. If homeowners are not home, a blue door hanger will be left with information on how to contact Realty Appraisal Company to schedule another time. A second visit with no answer will have a red door hanger left for the resident. If or when the revaluation firm is allowed entry, they stated they will be counting rooms, checking such things as seeing if a basement or attic is finished, noting improvements made to the property in the kitchen/bathroom/etc. as well as various finishes, and perhaps even asking some questions. In all, it is expected that the interior inspection will take approximately 10 minutes. A signature will be requested of whomever allowed entry just to state that the firm representatives were in the house on such-and-such a date.

“If there is anything that you think affects the value of your property that you want to point out to the inspector, by all means do so,” Mr. Duda said.

It was stated that in addition to entering the property, appraisers will be measuring the exterior of each structure and taking photographs only of the outside of properties.

Once the inspections have been completed, Realty Appraisal Company will mail out value notification letters with the new assessed values to all property owners and be available for one-on-one meetings. Mr. Duda added, “Typically, the first people that call us for the one-on-one meetings are the folks who didn’t let us in the house.”

Hearings will most likely be in Borough Hall but they will only be available to those who allowed Realty Appraisal into their house. Those who did not will be able to meeting after the firm performs a visual in-person inspection of the interior of the property.

Mr. Rubinstein returned to the microphone to clarify another concern regarding entry, “There’s no law that say you have to let our representative in to assess your home but what we would say is if you want an accurate appraisal or an accurate assessment, that’s the best way to achieve it . . . At the end of the day if we can’t get in, we don’t know what’s in your house. There’s no data in this municipality. We’re starting with a blank piece of paper so it really is in your best interest to let our inspector in.”

In the event that inspectors are not allowed entry for any number of reason, Mr. Rubinstein remarked that they could accommodate to return at another time and will contact information with the resident. He added, “If we’re not allowed in, ever, then we have to estimate for highest and best use. By law, we’re allowed to estimate what’s inside the house. It’s much easier to do it when you’re inside the house. Typically what happens with those is we estimate on the high side. We don’t want to penalize property owners that are forthcoming, allow us to do the inspection, get an accurate assessment by putting a lower assessment on a property we did not get into.”

Canvassing is to occur during business hours but will allow for after-work hours as well as Saturdays. There will be no inspections done on Sundays.

Addressing a piece of misinformation about revaluations, Mr. Rubinstein said, “Another common misconception of  a revaluation is that it is the town trying to collect more taxes. That is not the case. A revaluation is what’s called revenue neutral . . . It’s a redistribution of the tax burden.”

“Typically, the old rule of thumb was a third go up, a third go down, and a third stay the same. My grandfather coined that phrase. I don’t actually think it’s that true now, said Mr. Rubinstein, “We don’t know what’s going to happen in Roselle Park. We’re at the beginning stages of the process. When we’re done with every appraisal and every assessment, we’ll be able to predict exactly what the outcome of the revaluation is [and] that’s basically two things: your current assessment and your new assessment as compared to the average assessment in Roselle Park. But if the budget is $50 million, it’s $50 million.”

After the meeting, Mr. Rubinstein stated that generally, the contemporary breakdown is a 20% of properties see an increase in taxes, another 20% see a decrease, with the remaining majority of property taxes staying roughly the same. He added the caveat that since Roselle Park had not had a revaluation in such a long time, the breakdown cannot be pinpointed until it is completed.

The final part of the presentation reviewed a property owner’s options if not satisfied with the assessment. They could file an appeal with Union County Tax Board and, if not satisfied with that ruling, can then file with the state tax court.

(This article is the first of a two-part report)

(Part II Link)