SUMMARY -There is quite an uproar amongst Berkeley Heights residents since Connell received a tax break of about $1.3 million. This was a result of a large reduction in their 2010 assessment of four properties at Connell Corporate Park. The current status is that the Tax Assessor defended his action in public and the Governing Body is waiting for the current Mayor to assign our Tax Consultant Lawyer to tell us how to appeal this action. The appeal was suggested by Resident Taxpayer Sean Manns and endorsed and requested by Councilman Bonacci.
Here is my version of the series of information passed on, since this action was taken (by the Tax Assessor, Mr. Edgar in Dec. 2009).
- Connell via several designees came to the Tax Assessor in December 2009 requesting assessment reductions on their properties.
- Mr. Edgar said he kept Mayor Cohen informed in December by phone and/or other means.
- Mr. Edgar also informed Mayor Cohen by memos in January and February (public records) which no Council member admits seeing until May or so.
- Mr. Edgar, in those memos, told the Mayor that he should plan on legal fees in the 2010 budget for attorneys to help with other appeals. He also said there would be no appeal from Connell since he settled with them.
- Mr. Sincaglia, VP of the BOE, told the Acting Mayor Bruno and Council at the March 23, 2010 School Board budget presentation that there was a large tax assessment reduction which raised the tax rate for the school tax.
- A few days later, resident Sean Manns saw Councilman Bonacci in Town Hall, discussed the budget and noted that he had seen the Tax Assessor and was disappointed in the numbers.
- As a Councilman who had not been previously informed of the action and consequences, I went to see the Assessor to gather information. I also obtained copies of letters he sent in January and February to Mayor Cohen. After several meetings and discussions I asked the Assessor for details for the current governing body and myself. The result was a May 25, 2010 memo by him to the Mayor and Council detailing the results of his actions and the $1.3 million dollars (this is a public record).
- I sent an e-mail on June 28, 2010 to the Mayor and Council expressing my concern and suggesting follow-up and action (see attachment #1 for public record). I received no responses.
- As a result of further inquiries by me to the Assessor, he sent a July 12, 2010 memo to the mayor and Council (received by all on July 20 as a public record) detailing all changes in assessments from calendar 2009 to calendar 2010. I received no response from anyone on this either and no Council or Executive meetings took place to my knowledge.
- Mr. Manns sent an e-mail to Mayor and Council expressing his concerns and followed up by coming to Council meetings on August 10, 24 and September 14, 2010 (public record). The August 24, 2010 attendance at a Council meeting by Mr. Edgar resulted and was covered by the local newspapers, however, I was out of state and not in attendance.
- At the Sept. 14, 2010 Council meeting I entered into the record a list of questions (see attachment #2), which only Mr. Bruno answered in public thus far.
- At the same Sept. 14, 2010 Council meeting, Mr. Manns obtained a statement from Mr. Bruno that Mayor Cohen told Mr. Bruno about the Connell assessment but Bruno did not confirm when or provide any details.
- On Sept. 16, 2010 Mr. Manns via e-mail to the Mayor and Council (public record) informed us the Town could make an appeal. It was based on his discussion with the County Tax Administrator. He suggested that the Town investigate how to proceed and he offered to help. He received e-mail responses from Mr. Bruno and myself that that it was a good idea and we should proceed.
- At the Sept. 28, 2010 Council Meeting, I called for the Mayor to assign follow-up and define the procedure we could follow and to present us with an approach we could vote on. Mayor Woodruff suggested Mr. Sol Wolf, our tax consultant lawyer could do this and it was agreed.
I hope that action will be forthcoming at the Oct. 12, 2010 Council meeting so that we can vote and pursue this important matter. It means a significant cost impact for all taxpayers in 2011 if action is timely and positive.
I will close by stating that I believe the Tax Assessor has some rational to his setting of the assessed values but his judgment on a number of counts was poor. I believe he could have held to his own calculations and lowered the tax less than he ultimately did. If I am elected Mayor, I feel that I can correct this situation by any of the following or a combination of actions; namely:
- Appoint a new tax assessor
- Appoint a Tax Board of three persons rather than an Assessor
- Appoint a resident Advisory Committee to provide an overview of major tax assessment changes.
Lacking any further positive tax action on this matter, we could ask Connell to contribute $1.3 million per year for 10 years towards a library, community center, town hall and senior center.
Sincerely, John C. Bonacci, Mayoral Candidate - Candidate Statement #3-10-06-10
Attachment 1—e-mail of Bonacci on June 28, 2010
Attachment 2__ public statement of Bonaci on September 14, 2010.
Attachment 1- Bonacci e-mail of June 28, 2010
Jack Conway <firstname.lastname@example.org>
RE: Connell Tax Assessment
Mon, Jun 28, 2010 3:24 pm
John - email@example.com ......I copied him on this for you
Sent: Monday, June 28, 2010 3:15 PM
To: John Bonacci; Robert Woodruff; Joe Bruno; firstname.lastname@example.org; Jack Conway; Jack Conway; Elaine Perna; Kevin Hall; Craig Pastore; email@example.com@bhtwp.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Connell Tax Assessment
Check if I missed anyone on this list (no e-mail for assessor).
I am just finding time to comment further on the May 25, 2010 memo of Bob Edgar, the Tax assessor, since my original enquiry to him. A number of residents are showing deep concern about this tax reduction expecially because of the budget activity. Not all the concerns are valid but the perception is. I believe the governing body needs to address this issue in public but if there is a confidential aspect under the Sunshine Act 9 items then this could occur first.
Here is the way I see it in some chronological order and please note that I have discussed this with the Tax assessor on several occassions and as recently as this a.m. and am still waiting for more details to satisfy myself and my learning curve.
1. I first became aware of this in a qualitative sense on MArch 23, 2010 when Mr. Sincaglia of the BOE raised the issue for Mr. Bruno, the then Acting Mayor and for Mr. Cohen the prior MAyor. When I responded to Mr. Sincaglia's comment it was simply to clarify the relationship of the tax assessment to any actual tax not the specifics of pros and cons on that assessment. This means that there is no impact on any overall budget in balancing taxes with expenses. However other tax payers can be affected since the relative assessment changes who pays what portion of any absolute dollar tax. That is, if one person goes down, others must go up whether they be residents or other commercial or industrial payers.
2. Mr. Edgar did keep Mayor Cohen informed of his mtgs and decisions (memos of JAn 25, 2010 and Feb 1, 2010 and perhaps other discussions). Council Members and the Administrator and other appointed officials may or may not have received copies.
3. No one went into any further questioning of the actions taken even with respect to the Alcatel Lucent status or the numerous other appeals made by tens of residents.
4. I am waiting for a list of the individual and total of the other appeal requests for 2010 whether granted or not. It behooves all of us to study this when it becomes available and make any judgments necessary. I am also waiting for some copy or definition of the law regarding "economic rent or value" whatever the legal term is.
My bottom line at this moment is that the Connell adjustment was untimely and inappropriate and I am disappointed that the MAyor (and perhaps Mr. Bruno) were more aware than the rest of us and did not pursue this matter. For the wrong reason, I commend Mr. Sincaglia for bringing this to light in public and also Mr. Sean Mann for pursuing this as a resident for whatever motivation he had.
I look foraward to the other information and to any comments and a future joint discussion of this matter.
Attachment 2- Comments-Council 9-14-10 by John Bonacci
I will use my time to catch up with the Connell Tax Break since Annette and I were out of state with our children and grandchildren on Aug. 24 when the Assessor was here.
I have a list of questions for him and for all of us even though I have been researching the situation since late March when Mr. Sincaglia first raised the issue as part of the School Board presentation. Mr. Manns saw me in Town Hall a few days later and told me he saw the Assessor and the Connell re-assessment was large. I then met with Mr. Edgar the Assessor several times to gather information.
He sent a May 25 memo to the entire governing body and a July 12 memo to the entire governing body. One started out “at the request of Councilman Bonacci” and the other “Councilman Bonacci was in to follow up and asked “.
In between those memos and visits I sent a June 28 e-mail to the entire governing body, the Administrator and the Clerk and the Town Attorney. I stated that many residents were concerned because Connell’s savings resulted in other taxpayers higher cost in a difficult budget year. I asked that the governing body look into this adjustment privately and in public because I felt it was untimely and inappropriate.
So my questions are:
- Did any Governing Body Member use Blackberry Messenger, text mail or e-mail to discuss the Connell taxes?
- Who informed Mr. Sincaglia and when was he informed?
- What did the Tax Assessor say to Mayor Cohen or the Township Attorney in Dec. 2009?
- What did Mayor Cohen say to the Tax Assessor in Dec. 2009?
- Why didn’t the Mayor and/or the Tax Assessor inform the Council of this large change in Dec. 2009 before it was consummated?
- Did the Tax Assessor ever do one this large before and not talk to an appraiser or lawyer or consultant?
- Why didn’t Mayor Cohen bring it to the Council when he received a letter direct to him in January 21 and 25 and Feb. 1 of 2010 when he said here are the figures you are interested in?
- Why didn’t Mr. Bruno as the Acting Mayor on March 23, 2010 get the same information as Mayor Cohen and/or bring this to the Council for discussion?
- Why didn’t Mayor Woodruff and Council respond to my e-mail or the data provide to them on May 25 and July 20?
- Why didn’t the Assessor stick to his calculated values, which were about halfway between what Connell had and what they asked for?
- Why didn’t Mayor Cohen or the Tax Assessor poll the Council on whether we could afford an Appeal by Connell or not?
- Can any taxpayer under the law appeal the Connell assessment in the Tax Appeal Court?
- Can the Township financially support in an appeal any Taxpayer, like Mr. Manns who seems to have done all the work and makes a strong case for unfairness to all the Townspeople?
Now, I am still doing some research and developing ideas on current and future procedures and believe perhaps we can have a Tax Forum with the public. I submit this
status and questions into the record for further consideration. –JOHN C. BONACCI