First Revaluation Meeting Brings Answers And Questions: Part II

After the 25 minute presentation by Realty Appraisal Company – the firm hired by the municipality to conduct the townwide revaluation –  those in attendance were allowed to ask questions.

A male resident was first and started by rhetorically asking, “I would like to ask what is this revaluation really for. Everybody knows that there isn’t one person in this room, their taxes are going to go down. Nothing every goes down, okay. This town is riddled with potholes . . . I believe that the money in this town is really mismanaged and now you want more to mismanage and our taxes are all going to go up with this re-evaluation [sic] and that’s what it’s for, and that’s why everybody else is here, because that’s what they believe.”

After the resident left the microphone Mr. Rubinstein responded, “I guess I can try to answer that. [With] a revaluation, people go up, people go down. For the past 32 years, the people who go down, you typically don’t hear too much from them because they’re happy but as I stated it’s simple math. Not everybody’s taxes can go up in revaluation.”

Resident Jeff Ceterko came up to ask, “As far as entry, if someone were to have done work to their home without a permit, added bedrooms, added bathrooms, and they deny entry,  you guys still won’t know about it. You’ll just be making an estimate from the outside of the home?”

“In a non-threatening fashion,” replied Mr. Rubinstein reiterating the high assessment that will be given to those who deny entry, “When somebody doesn’t let us into their home, we’re going to assume that that home has been fully renovated – the basement, the kitchen, the bathroom, the attic if it has one.”

Mr. Ceterko subsequently asked if inspectors will have shoe covers since he stated that his wife does not allow people to walk on the carpeting. He was told that although they do not carry shoe covers with them, they would not have a problem with removing their shoes.

Even Borough Clerk Doreen Cali spoke on her personal experience, stating then when the town she lives in had a revaluation, she did not initially let them in. Once she received her Value Notice letter, seeing that her property taxes were going to be raised by $1,500, she arranged to be inspected which, ultimately, resulted in a $200 decrease in her property taxes.

Another issue that was asked about by another resident was sheds.Mr. Duda stated that if it was intended to be a permanent structure, it would be assessed but he added that sheds do not add a lot to the appraisal. Additionally he noted the condition that if it is under 100 sq. ft., it is not assessed.

Someone asked what if Realty Appraisal assesses their property more than a refinance company. He was told that it may be the same or it may not be the same but that there is a different methodology used when doing a refinance. The resident continued, “If you’re coming in telling these poor people that are hard middle-class workers, that if you don’t let us in, we’re going to assess it high, then you’re not being fair to the people of Roselle Park . . . There’s a lot of people who have wives that stay home, I don’t think they would appreciate you guys ringing their doorbell having their wives that are home, and I’m one of them, with a stranger in my house, I would like to be there.”

Mr. Duda from Realty Appraisal Company stated that the homeowner could schedule a time for the appraisers to return when he was going to be home, adding, “Typically, people that don’t let us in the house don’t let us in because they have a financially compelling reason not to let us in.”

Resident Jeanine Goodis stated that her family purchased their house in 1998 and asked, “Will you go back to the revaluation from ’81. Isn’t that on file somewhere?”

She was notified that the municipality does not have records from the banks and that Roselle Park does not have a typical, complete, CO (Certificate of Occupancy) inspection, but solely a smoke and fire certification inspection. In discussing what is inspected, Realty Appraisal went over the classifications used – old, average, and modern – to determine when work was done. They also re-iterated that they do not go into a property knowing what permits were filed so as not to be biased by prior records.

A request was made by another resident if the homeowner could get a copy that day of the checklist that Realty Appraisal used in their inspection.

Mr. Rubinstein answered, “It’s not a town document so we’re really not bound to turn over a copy but with the town’s approval I don’t see an issue.”

The inspector would be able to provide a copy to the homeowner him or herself but if people have a copier, they could run a copy of the report but the original would remain with the inspector.

The question was specifically asked if any pictures would be taken of the home. Mr. Rubinstein reiterated that photographs would be just of exterior, nothing on the inside, and from the front of the house only.

“So you’re not taking pictures in the yard? Not taking pictures in the house?”, asked the resident.

“Not a one,” replied Mr. Rubinstein.

The resident ended by offering the suggestion that mayor and council  should start the ball rolling by letting their houses be assessed first in good faith.

“You want to come? I’ll be the first one. Anybody can come. I’ll even have donuts and coffee,” responded Mayor Carl Hokanson as the audience laughed in amusement.

Mrs. Pam Reinoso came up and asked, “What are you doing about outside? There’s still a lot of asbestos siding and things on houses. How is that going to be taken into consideration for the revaluations?”

Mr. Rubinstein answered that the appraisers look at anything either positive or negative that they feel affects the value of that property. He remarked, “As far as asbestos siding, we would need market data really to show that.”

Mrs. Reinoso then asked if true market value is being applied to the assessment, how are surrounding house that might not have been taken care of over the years, impact an appraisal. She was told that the inspectors look at everything that can affect value, including the neighborhood. She also asked, “Say you have neighbors around you . . . are not allowing you in and they are going to be assessed at the highest possible value, does that have any impact on your assessment?”

Neil Rubinstein replied, “No.”

In response to a question from a resident regarding income producing properties, Realty Appraisal commented that a commercial property is appraised differently than a residential property and the two-family homes are not appraised as commercial, only five-family buildings and up. No other information was given regarding a commercial assessment other than it is appraised upon its net income.

Another woman thanked Realty Appraisal for the meeting and asked if they could clarify the rules and regulations they have to follow for a revaluation. She was told that Realty Appraisal Company has to follow the same set of rules every other firm does that were set by the New Jersey Division of Taxation.

Mr. Rubinstein then introduced the audience to Christopher Duryee, the Administrator of Union County Board of Taxation, to speak. Mr. Duryee stated that the Union County Board of Taxation has to supervise the revaluation, as set by the NJ Division of Taxation. He explained, “After the reval is complete, we’re going to have a new total valuation for the township . . . and we’re going take that total new assessed value and divide that by the taxes and we’re going come up with a new tax rate. Now when that total assessed value goes up, that will bring the tax rate down.”

When a resident came up and stated she did not receive a revaluation notice letter, Ms. Scaglione said, “I’ll be honest, I have a stack upstairs. They came back. The address is right, why they came back i have no [idea]. There’s a sticker from the post office stating [it was] not deliverable.”

Ms. Scaglione added that there were copies available at the meeting and anyone requesting a copy should contact her office at (908) 245-2540.

First Ward Councilman Eugene Meola asked if Realty Appraisal Company would mind to have him as an escort for residents who might feel suspicious of the appraisers knocking on their doors. He was told there is no objection to that suggestion.

The councilman – who was not a member of the governing body when they unanimously voted to approve the revaluation – went on to say that a lot of people are nervous about the revaluation, and having improvements be added to the assessed value of a property. He was told that the assessors will not be comparing what someone has with what they had before since they are working without referencing previous records. They provided a quick example that a property with redone kitchens and bathrooms are worth more.

“But that’s not what was explained to us when this whole thing started,” said Councilman Meola, “When this whole thing started we were told, look, if you still got the same living space square footage, you’re the same . . . I was under the impression that it was going to be ‘Yes, I still have this many windows, I still have the same amount of bathroom, I still have the same kitchen.”

Mr. Duryee answered, “At the end of the day, [it is about] what is the value of my home?”

“This is what I wanted to explain the people,” concluded the councilman, “Look it’s inevitable. It was going to happen sooner or later but people [have] done work to their houses, they worked very hard, they’re making payments on these, and they’re getting hit again, and I just think you got to be really careful with this revaluation.”

but like everyone in here, they’re looking to take care of themselves which is perfectly natural . . . I hope that it’s fair.

Another gentleman asked, “With those who were successful with their tax appeals – and I was one of them about three years ago – how does this affect me going forward?”

He was told that value was going to reset since each assessment would be performed without referencing previous records.

The resident continued, “Because with all of this, it’s going to seem like I’m going to be penalized for doing that appeal and winning that appeal too if my taxes go up. I’m not getting this whole re-assessment issue, why it was needed in the first place.”

Mr. Duryee commented, “I can give you a little view sitting on the tax board . . . I can tell you when we call an appeal and somebody sits in front of us, the first thing I hear is ‘Well, my neighbor next door is paying less than me and did you know that they’ve got a finished basement?’ This process is about being fair so that we can eliminate all that and everyone is paying their fair share.”

“I get it,” the resident said, “but like everyone in here, they’re looking to take care of themselves which is perfectly natural . . . I hope that it’s fair.”

Jeff Ceterko returned for a clarification, “This really boils down to not how much your house has gone up, it’s how much your house has gone up relative to everyone else in terms of a percentage. If the Bendy section, if it underperformed the rest of the town since 1981 we’d actually see a decrease in taxes. If the Bender section outperformed the rest of the town since 1981 we’d see a net increase in taxes. The same thing for Colfax Manor.”

“Theoretically,” Mr. Duda answered, “Our job is to collect data to determine what your house is actually worth.”

Other than the door hanger, another resident asked if there was going to be a timetable for the visits.

“We don’t post that for security reasons,” Mr. Duda notified the audience, “We don’t want to let the world know inspectors will be in this neighborhood at these time but the police will know.”

He did not explain how placing a recommended return visit on the door hanger could prevent anyone from reading it off the placement.

When asked by a resident if the revaluation could lower a mortgage in some way, she was told that one has nothing to do with the other.

“Thank God we didn’t do the reassessment in 2007 or 2008,” commented a member of the audience, “Because I think a lot of people here are talking about bought their house then and  . . . they’re in a shortfall at this point just like the town is. That’s why they’re doing this . . . The town is trying to make up for the loss of income due to tax appeals. They want to make back the money they lost in tax appeals.”

Mr. Duryee from the Union County Board of Taxation responded, “[The town is] not going to get that back, and this process is not to recoup it, it’s to stop it from happening in the future. It’s to stop that bleeding. They’re not going to get extra money.”

The woman added that subjective nature of the assessment bothered her but stated that maybe the option of an appeal could question or confirm the assessment.

A landlord to a two-family house inquired about whether the land value or the improvement value, the two components of every assessment, would change. He was told that both would change.

Jeanine Goodis returned to stated, “I have to say for me, personally, I’m really glad we had this meeting and I really agree with the mayor. This, at least, I feel will alleviate some of the rumors that have been going around. My final question though is what’s to say after you’ve come, you’ve reassessed, everything’s set, we have our tax rate, that you don’t then take those tax records and give them to the building department . . . let’s pull permits and, let’s face it we could use the money of fines.”

Mayor Hokanson spoke up and introduced the Borough Attorney Richard Huxford to address that point. Mr. Huxford stated that the purpose of the revaluation is just to get information. He added that there is a statue of limitations that only goes back one year from when work was done and that the purpose of a permit is a safety issue.

“Anything beyond a year, you should be fine,” stated the Borough Attorney, “Anything less than a year, there could be an issue, possibly, but based on the assertions [stated] here I don’ t think there’s going to be an issue. but again there may be a small fee to get that permit. I don’t think there’s going to be a fine issue.”

Mayor Hokanson repeated a point he has previously stated, “The permits, they’re there for you. They’re not there for us because believe when I’m telling you, if you come and look at the budget the amount of money that we get bringing in from permits is minimal. It wouldn’t be enough to probably to pave the parking lot. The permits are there for you folks to make sure that the work is done legally and done right because what’s going to happen is God forbid you get a fire or something happens in that house, the insurance companies . . . are going to go back to the construction department and say ‘Hey, were there any permits pulled?’ [If there weren’t,] you know what they’re going to say? ‘See you in court.'”

Former Roselle Park Mayor Joseph DeIorio approached the microphone and suggested that perhaps to provide information to residents so they could estimate what their new assessments would be. He also asked if Realty Appraisals would be providing contact information so the Borough Tax Assessor would not be inundated with questions that only the revaluation firm could or should answer. A link to the firm’s website, that has a FAQ section, PowerPoint presentations, a list of current revaluations, and contact information was provided (link).

Mr. DeIorio concluded by asking how the matter will be handled if inspectors note that a property is a two-family house but the municipal records have it designated as a one-family home. He was told that the zoning officer would in all likelihood require the property owner to get a zone variance.

The meeting closed with a question from Roselle Park resident Carl Pluchino, who was the former zoning officer, about the assessment of and access to abandoned and vacant properties. The firm hoped that they would be given access to inspect the interiors by the property owners, be it a financial institution or a private owner.

With that, the first revaluation meeting came to a close after two-and-a-half hours.

A second session was announced, set to occur on a Saturday morning, but no date was given.

Realty Appraisal Company is expected to begin initial visits this week and will do one tax map page at a time.