PATERSON, NJ – Despite record numbers of tax appeals in the past two years, the City Council Tuesday night voted not to conduct a citywide revaluation of all Paterson properties. By a 4-4 vote, an ordinance that would have authorized a special emergency appropriation of $2.1 million to pay for the revaluation failed.
Opponents said they feared the city would be wasting money by conducting the massive undertaking of a property-by-property reassessment before the city makes improvements in its tax assessor’s office to ensure that the municipal property records can be electronically updated to keep up with changes in the region’s real estate market. Opponents pointed out that the lack of such technology six years ago, after Paterson’s last revaluation, left many property owners with inaccurate assessments after the real estate market tanked, forcing people to file tax appeals by the thousands.
But supporters of the revaluation said they believed improvements already were under way in the assessor’s office and would be in place by the time the new assessments were ready more than a year from now. Moreover, supporters said that rejecting the revaluation could backfire on the city because the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA), which is still deciding how much Transition Aid to give Paterson for fiscal 2103, has strongly urged the city move ahead on the new assessments.
Councilman William McKoy said Paterson desperately needed the state’s help to close its $8.5 million budget deficit. “We can’t afford to pay our bills,’’ McKoy said. “This is thumbing our nose’’ at the state, he added.
But that argument did not sway enough of his colleagues. “I’m not going to be lead down a path just because the state says so,’’ said Councilman Kenneth Morris, who said he lacked confidence that the city administration would successfully implement the changes in the tax assessor’s office.
In addition to Morris, voting against the revaluation were council members Rigo Rodriguez, Andre Sayegh and Julio Tavarez. Besides McKoy, voting for the revaluation were Ruby Cotton, Kenneth McDaniel and Council President Anthony Davis. Councilman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman was not at the meeting. Officials said he had a family issue to tend to. But even if he were there, the measure still would have failed because it required six affirmative votes to pass.
In a bit of irony, several years ago Paterson sued the Passaic County Tax Board to get permission to conduct a new revaluation soon after the previous in order to get properties assessed in line with market values, officials said. In fact, the city is now under an order issued by state tax court to proceed with the revaluation, officials said.
Several people in the audience spoke against the revaluation during the public hearing on the ordinance.
Preakness Avenue resident Tom Fuscaldo said the last revaluation was “rather messy” and “made a lot of people suffer.”
Francisco Abaraca said the city ought to try to get the county tax board to pay for the revaluation because that entity signed off of the previous revaluation that created many problems. “We’re paying for their mess,’’’ Abaraca said. “They allowed it to happen.’’’
“How are we guaranteed these dopes aren’t going to make the mistakes they made last time?’’ asked 2nd Ward resident Frank Fillipelli.
Activist David Gilmore asserted that the council should not take the administration’s word that it would implement the improvements in the tax assessor’s office. “Do you really think they’re going to do what they’re supposed to do?’’ asked Gilmore, a frequent critic of the administration. “I don’t have any trust in them.’’
Abarca said the city would be “putting the cart before the horse” if it started the revaluation before new technology and staff were installed at the tax assessor’s office.