Re-Evaluations are in. You Won't Like Them!

This morning’s Trenton Times, in an article by Cristina Rojas, tells us that “Revaluation notices started arriving in the mail this month for Trenton residents as part of the first citywide revaluation in more than two decades.” Later in the article we read, “Starting in February, the data will be available for property owners to review at” That last is slightly off. Data for property owners, at least for 9,258 of the 30,000 properties reported by Ms. Rojas, is available now.

You won’t like what you read. That is, if you are among the nearly 2000 property owners whose assessments have increased by 25%, or more, since the last re-evaluation done in 1992. For some of you, the increase is much, much more than 25%.

Me, I’m personally looking at a 44% increase.And there are another 1500 or so properties facing increased assessments between 10% and 25%.

I told you you wouldn’t like these!!

These draft increases – they are subject to some revision and appeal, but barring any major developments – we’ll get to that in a bit – these increases, or something like them, are likely to take effect, and all at once, soon in the current calendar year.

Before we go any further, I know you are dying to look up your property, and those of your neighbors. You can go here, to the website of the Appraisal Systems, Inc.(ASI) webpage for Trenton, and click on the “Trenton Residential Proposed Assessments (released as of 01-17-17) (xlsx file) link. for the company’s spreadsheet. You can also click on this link, where I have taken the ASI data and added an additional column showing the percentage increase in the proposed property assessments for 2017 over current rates.

Come back after you’ve absorbed the shock.

Back? OK.That was bad, right?

If you can’t find your property, remember this appears to be a partial list, of about one third of Trenton properties. These all appear to be residential, with no commercial data. If you don’t have Microsoft Excel, let me know via a Comment or email if you would like me to look to see if your property is on the list.

Next, let me briefly explain what higher assessments COULD have meant. If, at the end of a process that sees a major citywide rise in property valuations, individual property increases don’t mean all that much. If, for instance, the City of Trenton showed a 30% increase in property values in the last 25 years, then an increase to you of 30% would be about par. A citywide increase in the total tax base would likely reduce property tax rates, allowing a bigger base to pay for the same sized city budget as before the re-evaluation. Lower rates would also help draw in new investments, attracted by lower taxes.  Follow?

However, that hasn’t happened here. Of the close to 9260 properties on this website, the total valuation of those properties has barely budged since 1992. All of these properties were worth $656,322,670 in 1992, and only increased 4.45% in all that time, to $685,322,670.

A flat tax base change means – in all likelihood – very little change in property tax rates for Trenton. So an increased valuation of 25% or more will probably mean close to a 25% increase in your property tax bill.

My first look-through of this list shows that the massive increases of 25% or more seem to be highly clustered. I note characteristically large increases in the neighborhoods of Glen Afton, Hiltonia. Berkeley Square, Cadwalader Heights, and The Island. These are all West Ward neighborhoods of largely middle-class single-family households. Massive increases such as the ones we see suggested on this spreadsheet will strike a major blow against what remains of the middle class in this town. Current property owners will have to struggle to pay property tax bills which may rise by a third, a half, or more. Those who will not be able to afford these increases won’t be able to sell their houses.

Who in the world will buy Trenton property at anything close to current market prices that come with a property tax burden so astronomically high? We already are burdened with some of the highest property taxes in New Jersey, and the value we get for those high taxes is abysmally low. If these tax valuations stand, sale prices for many neighborhoods in town will collapse. This will probably result in increases in foreclosures and abandonment in neighborhoods that – so far – have managed to avoid too many of either.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean.

The 180 or so properties identified as the neighborhood of Hiltonia,  increased by an average of 32%. Among those properties, I see typical individual increases of 54%, 49%, and 75%.

Glen Afton’s 215 properties average is a more reasonable – by contrast -  21%, with individual increases seen there of 30%, 35% and 44%.

My own Cadwalader Heights, a somewhat more compact neighborhood of 64 properties, increased an average 39%, featuring individual increases of 44% (me), 49%, 105%, 119%, and one unlucky homeowner’s 438%!

Berkeley Square: average increase of 20% for its 59 properties, with individual increases seen of 33%, 36%, and 50%; as well as a few decreases, of -13%, -16%, and -20%. The scattered decreases apparently helped to keep the average down.

That effect is also seen, more pronounced, on The Island. Its almost-200 properties increased by only 3%. But individual re-evaluations there range from decreases of -12%, -22% and -47%; to increases of 37%, 42%, 127%, and 180%.

It’s cold comfort to know your neighborhood “only” averaged a 3% bump, if you are the guy with the 180% jump in your valuation.

For some neighborhoods to have increased so high, and for the total to stay flat, other neighborhoods have to have had major decreases, right? That is, unfortunately the case.A few examples of those.

The Wilbur neighborhood, at least the close to 750 properties designated as “WBR2″ on the spreadsheet was valued 24% lower than in 1992, with decreases typical of -40%, -54%, -70%, amidst scattered increases.

And the West End neighborhood of 620 properties declined by only close to 5%, with large increased valuations next door to large decreased valuations.

Please note that the last two examples total almost 1400 properties, a far higher number than the total number of properties described above. What appears to have happened here is that, the city’s re-evaluation effort – at least for the close to 10,000 properties on this spreadsheet – has effectively resulted in  the decreased valuations from the massive Wilbur and West End neighborhoods of 1400 properties being nearly offset by the major increased valuations to the homeowners of the little more than 700 properties of the neighborhoods such as Hiltonia and Glen Afton. Well out of proportion to their numbers.

And throughout the City, drastic decreased valuations are often side-by-side with massive increases, of 50%, 75%, 100% or more.

Are these realistic or sustainable?

I don’t know. The impact of this won’t be fully felt until all of the 30,000 re-evaluation notices now or soon in the mail are opened and absorbed by individual property owners. It remains to be seen what number of those property owners will seek to appeal their valuations. (Personal Disclosure: I sure as hell will appeal! I can’t afford a 44% increase in my taxes to this town. Are they fucking kidding??)

From what I can see in this spreadsheet so far, as I have tried to briefly show above, is that the impact of these massive increases, as they broadly impact neighborhoods such as my own Cadwalader Heights, Hiltonia, and Glen Afton, will be nearly impossible to absorb. We can’t afford to pay, and we won’t be able to sell.

So what next? Remember that above I talked about “barring major developments,” these increases will probably stick? Well, if the reaction to these draft increases is strictly or mostly on an individual basis, the City will probably be able to wear down and delay individual appeals. Any reaction, opposition or appeal to these increases will be most effective if it’s collective.

Initially, that probably means discussion and or action through your local civic associations. Angry calls and letters to your Council reps and to the mayor.

But, as we well know, civic associations in Trenton possess widely varying levels of commitment, experience and (for lack of a better word) spleen. And our elected officials are mostly non-responsive and ineffective.

This tells me that those who will want to contest this will have to find alternative means of finding each other and fighting.

Let’s see what develops, as the mail is delivered and this news sinks in.

This is a big deal, folks. It really is.

2 comments to Re-Evaluations are in. You Won’t Like Them!

  • A big deal indeed! If we were able to organize property tax payers, what remedies might we realistically seek?

  • Paul McLemore

    Thanks for the 411 Kevin:

    Your analysis makes it clear that the City is attempting to obtain its revenue from selected areas of the City. The increases on the basis of the projected evaluations are unconscionable given the fact that the State of New Jersey which owns and occupies so many properties does not pay its fair share of property taxes. I agree any successful appeal of the draconian tax increases will result only if there is a collective effort. You can count Rose (wife) and me in.
    Paul & Rose McLemore
    105 Cornwall Avenue