FAIRFIELD, NJ — After hearing about residents’ concern over the revaluation process occurring in Fairfield, the governing body addressed these issues during this week’s council meeting.

About two years ago, the township received correspondence from Essex County regarding a state mandate requiring the Township of Fairfield to undergo a revaluation process for tax assessments. The mayor and council explained that although they did not want to do this, they were under court order from the Essex County Tax Board to do so.

According to the governing body, property values in Fairfield have increased over the last few years, leaving the state no choice but to mandate a revaluation. The last revaluation took place in 2008 for the 2009 tax year.

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The governing body also explained that a revaluation program appraises all property within a taxing district according to its full and fair value. In Fairfield, homes are being sold for much more than their assessed worth, according to the council.

Township Business Administrator Joseph Catenaro has previously explained that “a wide range of values, ranging from 70-to-94 percent of sales to assessed values, was a key indicator that a revaluation is justified.”

“We are currently assessed at 82.56 percent of true value,” said Catenaro, who noted that this is too low in the calculations of the state.

Catenaro and Mayor James Gasparini said that the purpose of a revaluation is not to bring more revenue into the township, but rather seeks to spread the tax burden equitably within a municipality.

The governing body strongly recommends that assessors be allowed into homes so that the homes are assessed accurately. If the assessor is not permitted into a home, the home is going to be assessed at the maximum, according to Gasparini.  

“They will assume you have the best of everything,” he said.

Residential fieldwork began earlier this month and will continue until November.

In other news, Catenaro also updated residents on the de-snagging and shoal dredging of the Passaic River. He said that Fairfield has joined with Montville Township and Lincoln Park in an attempt to clean up the river, especially since last year’s ice storm knocked down so many trees.

Catenaro and Gasparini explained that the township was not able to get into the river to remove the debris due to last summer’s excessive rainfall. Catenaro has filed for an extension of the grant for tree removal at the Passaic River through Aug. 31, 2020.

He added that the township is hoping that the land surrounding the river will be dry enough for machinery to be able to remove downed trees by this fall.

During the meeting, Matt Drive residents Joan and Richard Haynes inquired about the dredging of the river, which Gasparini said cannot be done due to environmental laws.  

“It’s an ongoing fight and it’s frustrating—especially since we do not see any progress—but we cannot do anything on our own,” said Gasparini, adding that federal government and the Army Corps of Engineers would be needed for this to occur.

The couple also asked questions about the revaluation process, expressing concern that their neighborhood is in a flood zone. Gasparini said that are 15 different categories in which neighborhoods are evaluated, two of which include the home’s vicinity to the river as well as a flood plain.

He further explained that the revaluation is based on the market value of a house, and that these conditions affect the market value.

The Haynes said they already spend $3,400 a year on flood insurance, and that it would be a hardship for them to see their taxes raised. The couple has lived in Fairfield for 29 years and noted the water problem in the area is getting worse.

Gasparini explained that last year, Fairfield had the highest amount of rainfall that it ever has in one year. He noted that residents are concerned that in the event of more snow and rain, it is only a matter of time before Fairfield floods again.

Catenaro and Gasparini explained that in December 2018, they met with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to learn how the Pompton Lakes’ dam floodgates operate and how it influences flooding conditions in our area. The mayor explained that the frustration arises from the fact that the whole operation is computerized and follows standardized calculations.

The explained that when the river begins to rise, the computer calculates how much water is coming into the river. If it is enough to cause an overflow at the dam, the floodgates open up from the bottom at three inch-intervals every 15 minutes as necessary.

Catenaro noted that this system helps the township because waiting until the dam overflows would leave Fairfield in much greater trouble.

Gasparini explained that he would like to see the DEP promote laws that would not allow reservoirs to remain at 100 percent capacity, especially when there is no chance of a draught. Gasparini said the DEP has not been receptive to this idea, claiming that the agency has no right to be promoting such laws.

Updates regarding plans for the corner of Fairfield Road/Little Falls Road and Passaic Avenue were also provided during the meeting, where Council President Thomas Morgan announced that this property has been divided into two lots: one for Chase Bank, and the other for Wawa. He said that the Wawa will have a 20-year lease, and the bank will have a 25-year lease.

In her quarterly health report to the council, township health inspector Gabriella Durand said that inspections were not enforced during this quarter. When asked about criteria for gym inspections, Durand said they are judged on factors such as over-all cleanliness, sanitation of equipment, showers and bathrooms, and that Fairfield gyms are currently doing well.

Councilman Joseph Cifelli asked Durand whether environmental factors could cause cancer in Fairfield pets, to which Durand said Durand said residents should refer to Health Officer Bill Wallace at the township’s health department with any questions.

The governing body also announced that that the Italian/American Police Society of New Jersey will be honoring Fairfield Police Chief Anthony Manna with its “Lifetime Achievement in Law Enforcement Award” at the annual gala to be held at the Fiesta in Wood Ridge on March 30 starting at 6:00 p.m. Anyone interested in tickets should contact Officer RJ Casendino at the police department for further information.

The next Fairfield mayor and council meeting will be held on Monday, Feb. 25.