BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Last week's Township Council meeting on September 19 began with Mayor Bob Woodruff and council stepping into Executive Session regarding a resolution on the agenda authorizing an "emergency" tax appeal settlement with Strategic Long Term Care of New Jersey at Berkeley Heights, the previous owner of the nursing facility located at 35 Cottage Street in Berkeley Heights. 

The tax appeal settlement reduces the total tax assessment levied for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014 requiring an emergency refund of $239,897 to be paid mostly from the 2017 emergency appropriation according to N.J.S.A. 40A:4-46.

The Township's Special Tax Council, Martin Allen, from the firm of DiFrancesco, Bateman, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer and Flaum, provided a summary of the settlement.

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The tax appeal between Strategic, located at 35 Cottage Street was reached after consulting with the Township's Tax Assessor Arthur Bellefonte, who came up with an opinion that the settlement was more than reasonable, said Allen.  "The value was substantially lower than if we tried the case."

The original assessment appraised the land and improvements at $7,150,000 and the Requested Tax Court Judgment was at $5,000,000. The appeal originally was for the years 2012 to 2016. The settlement reduces the tax assessment to the years 2012, 2013 and 2014 and withdrew the Tax Court Complaints for 2015 and 2016.

"We came up with a settlement that was reasonable with the governing body," said Allen.

Allen explained that when there are tax appeals, we typically obtain it through credits or the adjustment be made in subsequent years. In this instance, Strategic Long Term Care sold the property in 2016 to a new owner.

They filed the appeal and if we were to give credits to the property it would go to the new property owner. If we were to give a prospective adjustment in the assessment it would go to the new owner, he explained.

"We had to come to the governing body to get a refund approved," he said.

Mayor Bob Woodruff asked Allen if this has occurred before -- and Allen replied, "We may have had one or two occasions. Doesn’t happen often."

Councilman Marc Faecher made a statement regarding the process of collecting taxes. Berkeley Heights collected taxes, the Township "get its 18 or 19% over the years. The rest of the money has been paid to the County and the School Board -- but now we are obligated to fully fund the tax refund with no assistance from the County or the schools."

Allen confirmed that In New Jersey Real Estate tax law, the municipality foots the bill for refunds if the property is over assessed.

Township CFO Mike Marceau told TAPinto that by passing the resolution, it enables the Township to set up a line-item to charge the expense against.  "At the end of the year, available monies can be transferred into the Township’s Tax Appeals line-item to offset the $240,000.  If the township can transfer enough, then the emergency goes away.  If not, the Township can cover the delta using fund balance (surplus) or it will need to raise the monies in full in next year’s budget."

"Currently, the plan is to cover the emergency using transfers and fund balance and not effect next year’s budget,” said Marceau.