Dozens of Jersey City residents – some concerned, others angry – flocked to the first of several public meetings on Tuesday on the upcoming citywide property revaluation.
The meeting was led by property assessors Steven Rubenstein and Neil Rubenstein of the West New York-based firm Realty Appraisal Co., the company that will be conducting the city’s first reval since 1988.
A municipal revaluation essentially reallocates, or redistributes, the tax burden in the city based on property values, and assesses the values of every piece of commercial, residential, and vacant real estate in the city.
The purpose of a revaluation is to equalize tax rates so that all owners are paying their fair share.
But many homeowners are skeptical of the process and fear their taxes are the ones most likely to go up as a result of the upcoming reval, while the taxes paid by others – for example owners of commercial property – are likely to go down.
At recent City Council meetings, many longtime residents who own older homes – the properties most likely to be under assessed – have stated that after the last reval in 1988 they saw their annual tax bill jump by thousands of dollars, a hit they fear they are in for again as the city prepares for another revaluation.
“We understand that when there’s a reval, there’s a certain amount of trepidation and uncertainty about the potential impact in the city,” said Steven Rubenstein at last week’s public meeting. “There are also some notable misconceptions about why the city would undertake a revaluation at this time. The first misconception I want to dispel is this: Many homeowners think that the city is using the revaluation process to raise taxes. This is not the case. The amount that you pay in real estate taxes each year is determined by your municipal, county, and school budgets. If those budgets go up from one year to the next, and state aid that we get from Trenton is static, then property taxes will go up, whether the town undertakes a revaluation or not.”
The revaluation process
Realty Appraisal Co. will train several inspectors who will be charged with knocking on doors, visiting properties, and rating them based on several criteria. Essentially, Rubenstein said, the inspectors will be looking at the “age and condition of the property, anything that would affect its sale price on the real estate market.”
Because assessing homes in a fluctuating real estate market can radically impact property values from one year to the next, Realty Appraisal will measure home values using one fixed date – October 1, 2012 – as a benchmark. All Jersey City properties will be assessed according to their values on that date, rather than their on the date their properties are visited by inspectors.
Once the company comes up with preliminary assessment values for each property in the city, the Office of the City Tax Assessor will review the results. The assessor can make changes, or choose to accept the company’s results. Property owners will be notified by mail of their assessment value.
Residents who want to challenge their assessed value will be given a phone number to call and information on how to file an appeal with the Hudson County Board of Taxation.
Realty Appraisal Co. expects to complete the upcoming reval by January, 2013.
Residents share concerns
Despite the Rubenstein’s presentation, which many residents said they appreciated, many still had concerns about the process.
Homeowner Riaz Wahid asked Steven Rubenstein whether residents will receive copies of the notes the inspectors take during home visits. After Rubenstein told him residents, and other property owners are not given such notes, Wahid pointed out that “this leaves room for them to make changes after they leave [the home] that I’m not aware of.”
One owner of an old home that she said hasn’t been updated since the 1950s said although her house is in “excellent condition, it’s in excellent condition by 1954 standards. There’s a difference between ‘excellent’ in 1954, and ‘excellent’ in 2011.”
She was concerned that inspectors will not be given leeway to distinguish between unrenovated properties, such as her own, and modernized properties that may be in her neighborhood.
Rubenstein said that the inspectors are given opportunities to make additional notes that can offer additional details about the state of a property.
His brother, Neil Rubenstein, emphasized that residents should inform the inspectors of any unique condition – flooding, roof leaking, etc. – that may affect the value of their property, as this information will be reflected in the assessment given.
Many residents also questioned how the reval will affect the taxes paid by condo owners in buildings that have “payment in lieu of taxes,” or PILOT, agreements with the city.
Since this area was such a major concern for residents, Steven Rubenstein said after the meeting that the company would bring someone to the next public meeting to discuss this concern in more detail.
The next public meeting on the reval has yet to be scheduled.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.