WARETOWN, NJ – In a committee of three, it just takes two to pass a local law. Since such is the case in Ocean Township, Mayor Ben Loparo’s vote against a tax abatement ordinance doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Deputy Mayor Ken Baulderstone and Committeewoman Lydia Dodd both affirmed the first reading of an ordinance calling for the re-establishment of a five-year tax abatement and exemption program for certain portions of the municipality.
It’s not the first time that such a program has been in place. According to Township Clerk and Business Administrator Diane Ambrosio, an ordinance of this nature first appeared in the Township’s codebook in 2000. It has since expired.
The proposed ordinance is solely intended for property located in what the Township Committee has marked as part of an “Area of Need of Redevelopment.” The area is handled by C1 and C2, and represents the entire Route 9 Corridor and Main Street.
Ambrosio explained, “If the ordinance passes, a property owner or developer has the opportunity to apply for the five-year tax abatement. This would give the Township Committee a tool to use for new or existing property owners.”
“In some cases, a tax abatement might assist a new property owner in getting up and running,” continued Ambrosio. “It also gives existing property owners the ability to make improvements. The property assessment will not be less than the one existing immediately prior to the improvements.”
The term “improvements” covers a great deal of ground. It includes new construction, as well as modernization, rehabilitation, renovation, alteration, or repair that produces a physical change in an existing building or structure. This means improving the safety, sanitation, decency or attractiveness of the building or structure as a place for work and which does not change its permitted use.
Meanwhile, the ordinance would also allow property owners to put in an application for a tax exemption. If the law passes on October 10th, the Township Committee would then be open to applications for tax abatements or exemptions.
At the September Township Committee meeting, Loparo objected to the language contained in the ordinance. “I would like to know if it’s possible to exclude residential properties and only consider tax abatements for commercial properties,” asked Loparo.
Board of Education members recently expressed their opposition to tax cuts of any kind within the municipality. In particular, they voiced concerns on what more residents without additional tax revenue could mean to the already challenged school budget.
“I would not like the ordinance to include any type of residential property such as apartments,” Loparo repeated. “I see this as an incentive if something like Wawa wanted to rebuild or another type of commercial business wants to come into the Township.”
The current proposal differs from the PILOT program given to Shop Rite when it first came to the Waretown community. Otherwise known as “Payment in Lieu of Taxes,” PILOTs are long term and last for either 25 or 30 years.
“Without the development, there is no income to the schools,” pointed out Baulderstone. “We’re not taking money away from the schools.”
“It’s only for a short period of time,” added Dodd, referring to the five-year limitation of the proposed abatement.
Loparo, who previously served on the Township’s School Board stuck to his guns. “They’re in dire straights over there,” he said, as he voted against the ordinance.
Subsequent to the meeting, a resident came to the front of the room and requested clarification “Did they just vote to give an abatement to the property across from Shop Rite?” she asked.
The unfinished development across from Shop Rite on Route 9 calls for a mixed-use project for residential and commercial use. The developers have already requested and been denied two PILOTs. If the short-term tax abatement ordinance goes through, it remains to be seen if the property owners will once again apply for tax relief.
Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.