SPARTA, NJ – Sparta Township attorney Thomas Ryan laid out the next steps in the legal battle over the Glen Lake Dam special tax assessment at the council meeting on Tuesday night.
Glen Road resident Ken Gartner came to the microphone to ask about the township’s plan to handle the issue following the court’s rejection of the special commission.
“We are happy about the ruling,” Gartner said. “But now we’re left with attorney bills and tax bills.”
Gartner said the process was "not as transparent as the council said it would be," including several closed session discussions not available to the public. Additionally, Gartner said he had to resort to making Open Public Records Act or OPRA requests to get relevant documents and that some of those requests were even denied.
As was noted in the court ruling, Gartner pointed out there were conflicts of interest that caused concern. Councilman Jerry Murphy’s vote to authorize the members of the special commission was part of the judges findings in the court documents. Gartner also said the “President of the Glen Lake Beach Club is a tenant in the Laddey Clark and Ryan building,” calling that a conflict of interest as well.
Mayor Gil Gibbs deferred to Ryan for a response to Gartner’s comments.
Ryan said they were going to request a stay from the court, "to protect Sparta from potential litigation from those who have already made the special tax payments."
Further, Ryan said the township was “filing a motion for reconsideration,” the first step of an appeal. The township will also be seeking additional guidance from the court to find “which methodology he wants us to use,” according to Ryan. Finally, the township will be asking the state for clarification on how to deal with the loan; payments that have been made and payments that are coming due.
The commission's methodology and their findings were rejected in a court ruling by Judge Stuart Minkowitz received by Sparta’s Township Attorney on December 4, 2017.
The Glen Lake Beach Club was required to make improvements to the dam by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. In 2011, the state provided the loan through the Dam, Lake and Stream Project Fund but required the township to sign as a co-borrower because the township can assess and collect taxes and place liens. The township created a special commission to determine which property owners would be responsible for the special tax levy to cover the cost of the loan.
February 9, 2016 the Sparta Township Council created a Board of Assessment Commissioners, with consultant Scott Holzauer to determine which properties would be subject to the special assessment and the amount each would be required to pay.
In August the township council remanded the commission’s recommendation when the Glen Lake Beach Club provided boxes of documents to their attorney Eileen Born. The purpose of the remand was to review the documents to assure the list of properties to be included in the special assessment was as accurate as possible.
The commission responded to then Mayor Christine Quinn and the council members in a letter dated August 19, 2016. Born met with the commission’s consultant Scot Holzhauer and the commissions attorney Angelo Bolcato.
“The boxes also included membership ledgers from the 1970s through the 1990s,” the letter said.
They also noted the “public comments from property owners who reside along the south side of Glen Road who disagree with the determination that they are subject to the special assessment.” Born searched the Sussex County Clerk’s electronic deed database to determine ownership history of the properties.
That search identified 12 properties requiring further investigation. From there, according to the letter, six properties were determined to have been members of the association “at some point in time.”
The commission’s report was accepted by the township council at the end of August. The property owners deemed to be part of the Glen Lake Beach Club special assessment were billed and have been required to make payments to the township.
Those payments, in turn, have been paid to the state, according to Ryan.
“We don’t know when we will be able to address the taxes,” Ryan said.