Imagine that your overall property taxes are 50 percent higher than they were five years ago, and that the municipal portion of your tax bill alone has gone up over 84 percent during that time as well.
If you are a Jersey City taxpayer, you don’t have to imagine it. You are paying those taxes right now – or trying to.
Your property tax bill for 2010 currently has a municipal tax rate of $35.68 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That means if you own a home assessed at $100,000 for taxation, you pay $3,568 per year in municipal taxes alone. Compare that with the municipal rate of $19.30 per $1,000 in 2005, the first year of Mayor Jerramiah Healy’s administration.
Last year, your overall tax rate was $60.01 per $1,000, about 15 percent lower than this year. The municipal portion of that was $28.58 per $1,000, around 25 percent less than today.
Now add in county taxes, school taxes, school bonding, and the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund. Your overall tax rate in Jersey City today is currently $69.03 per $1,000, up considerably from the $46.05 per $1,000 in 2005.
And with a property revaluation underway that you can expect to see reflected in your tax bill due in January 2013, it’s anybody’s guess what size check you’ll be writing to the city.
A rate that’s not great
The city’s tax rate is determined by dividing the amount of the tax levy – the revenue raised from all taxpayers for municipal spending – by the total assessed value of all properties, known as tax ratables, in the city. Any increase in the tax levy, to fill a budget deficit for example, forces the municipal tax rate higher than the year before. This year the city’s budget had an estimated deficit of $80 million, which the city has tried to eliminate or at least reduce by raising the tax rate.
Once all property in the city has been revalued – supposedly assessed at its current market value – some believe the tax rate could go down, because the base of tax ratables will be worth much more.
The amount of municipal taxes levied this year was $210 million, an increase of $40 million from last year’s $170 million levy. This year’s municipal tax rate was attained by dividing the $210 million levy amount by the $5.89 billion total value for assessed properties in the city.
These higher taxes for Jersey City residents are coming at a time of massive unemployment and rising costs in many areas, from health insurance to heating the home, in a city where crime is high and school test scores are low and many residents question the quality of life they’re getting for the taxes they’re paying.
The higher taxes have incited anger and have led to a recall movement aimed at Healy and members of the City Council.
And in the words of Yvonne Balcer, a frequent critic of city government, they have created a reason for her neighbors living in the residential neighborhood of York Street in downtown Jersey City to start making plans to get out of town.
“It’s to the point that everyone I know says, ‘I have to sell,’” said Balcer, who posted the tax rates from 2005 to 2010 on her SpeakNJ website. “A lot of people have put their houses for sale online because they don’t want their neighbors to know.”
Balcer and her husband, Charles, are paying over $10,000 in taxes this year on their 140-year-old home. Balcer was not sure if they can continue to live in town – and they are not the only ones.
Kim Snyder is a single mother living in downtown Jersey City with her 15-year-old daughter.
Currently working as an executive assistant at Columbia University in New York, Snyder said, after paying thousands of dollars in rent for the past 13 years, she wants to move into her own home. But she sees that as impossible with the high taxes she would have to pay on the new house.
“I was born and raised here, and I still love this town,” Snyder said. “But when my daughter graduates from high school, I am going to move out of here, because why am I paying taxes this high when you don’t get services like good schools for the amount you’re paying?”
The high taxes are one of the reasons she is helping out with the recall.
A 22-year resident who declined to be named who owns a home in the city’s Greenville section and several other properties throughout the city also is considering moving out with his wife, but will continue to own his properties.
“I pay $9,000 to $10,000 a year in taxes on my properties, and the taxes are as much as my mortgage, which is ridiculous,” the Greenville resident said. “I am not saying we should not pay taxes, but I could move out to another community and there’s better policing, better schools, better quality of life.”
Paul Bellan-Boyer, who has lived in a condo with his wife on Duncan Avenue for more than 10 years, said he was “surprised a little bit,” but not completely taken aback, by hearing about the municipal tax portion going up more than 80 percent in the past five years.
“Any property owners in Jersey City at the low-end are getting squeezed,” said Bellan-Boyer, who works for the Jersey City Episcopal Community Development Corporation, which builds affordable housing throughout the city.
Bellan-Boyer said he is paying over $2,000 a month for a 30-year mortgage and thousands of dollars more in property taxes. However, he and his wife have no plans to move out of town.
Proposing their solutions
City spokesperson Jennifer Morrill said Mayor Jerramiah Healy and his administration have worked since he got into office “to minimize any property tax increase,” including this year with such measures as laying off and furloughing city personnel, closing the Jersey City Police Academy, reducing the number of fire companies, and eliminating the rank of police inspector. She says the Healy administration is developing a consolidation plan for city services and additional layoffs.
City Councilwoman Viola Richardson, who represents the city’s Bergen-Lafayette section, said she was worried about seniors living in her community who are being forced out of their homes because of the high taxes. She recommends they call City Hall (201-547-5000) to find out about a program that will help freezes their taxes for a certain period of time. But she believes that the taxes will not continue their rise.
“I don’t think taxes will continue to go up and up, and at some point will level off,” Richardson said.
Richardson is concerned about the municipal budget deficit. Her solution?
A tax on the payrolls of companies operating in Jersey City. But her idea has been nixed by her council colleagues, who point out that legal challenges have defeated previous attempts by the city to implement such a tax.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.