WESTFIELD, NJ — Responding the financial difficulties that COVID-19 has brought residents, a councilman is advocating the town waive late fees for the payment of second-quarter property taxes, a measure that is not on Tuesday’s proposed council agenda just days before a quarterly tax bill is due.
The deadline to pay second quarter property taxes is May 1 in towns across New Jersey, including Westfield — where the owner of a home assessed at the town’s average value of $795,159 paid $17,096 in property taxes last year, the second highest in Union County behind Summit. And while most municipalities near to Westfield are not waiving interest on late payments, some others across the state are doing so.
Councilman Mark LoGrippo is advocating that Westfield extend the grace period or waive the late fees. LoGrippo said he saw what some other municipalities are doing and believes it could help residents in Westfield financially hurt by COVID-19 closures.
“Many people are struggling locally,” LoGrippo said. “And it’s something that could help the taxpayers.”
Following repeated inquiries from residents on the issue, Mayor Shelley Brindle said that she is discussing the topic with municipal staff.
“We are aware of the May 1 date and need to ensure that whatever we do doesn’t have unintended consequences for our long-term balance sheet,” Brindle said in an email. “We will ultimately make a decision that’s in the best interests of our taxpayers in an attempt to be as compassionate as possible in light of many residents’ changing economic circumstances.”
Little Falls’ Township Council, located in Passaic County, was among the first in New Jersey to approve waiving fees and interest associated with late payment of second quarter property taxes.
“There’s definitely a lot that goes into determining whether or not this is something that a town should do,” Little Falls Mayor James Damiano told TAPinto Westfield. “Unfortunately, there is the possibility that this could be taken advantage of.”
The resolution approved by the Little Falls council fixes the interest rate for non-payment of taxes at zero percent and cites as its precedent a Local Finance notice the state issued in November 2001, when an anthrax scare disrupted mail delivery. In Hillsborough, located in Somerset County, the Township Committee has on its agenda Tuesday a measure that, if approved, would waive interest on second quarter tax payments made on or before June 1.
Nearer to Westfield, taxpayers in Summit, Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Kenilworth and Clark will have to pay their taxes within the 10-day grace period of the May 1 deadline or face interest on late payments.
“We are obligated by state law to collect taxes and provide payment to Union County and the public schools, and this cannot be postponed unless directed by the state,” said Summit Mayor Nora Radest in an email. “It is our hope that the people who can pay their taxes, will do so. If the economic recession continues into the third quarter, we will address this issue again in July.”
Cranford is also maintaining the 10-day grace period for property tax payments, but due to COVID-19 has extended the grace period for payment of residential sewer bills up to and including July 30, according to the township website.
Asked about the possible extension of tax payments, Scotch Plains Mayor Al Smith said his township is providing financial advantage to its residents in the municipal budget.
“We are not waiving late fees or extending grace periods,” Smith said. “We have introduced a zero-increase budget, which we believe is a better way to benefit everyone.”
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