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Dear Councilman Chester

As e-mailed 8-8-2017:

Good Morning, Councilman -

With all due respect, kiss my ass!

You are quoted in a news story that ran on WPVI/6ABC yesterday on the subject of the recent property revaluation completed in the City of Trenton. Reporter Nora Muchanic reporter included this in her story:

“City Council President Zachary Chester, whose property taxes jumped almost $4,000, says the city doesn’t want businesses leaving.

“‘Let us try to figure out something, ask the state, see what we can do legally, so that people don’t have to close their doors,’ Chester said.

“Chester wants to formulate a plan to help residents and businesses with tax appeals and review the assessment process that led to these jaw-dropping tax hikes.”

Really? THAT is your response at this late date? “Let us try to figure out something?” “Ask the state?”

Please, let me ask you what you have done in the last SEVEN MONTHS, since you were first alerted to the problems and the dangers raised by this revaluation? What have you and your colleagues done over the last HALF-YEAR to “try to figure out something?” Have you ever “asked the state” in the last 200 DAYS since I sent you and the other members of Council the note below?

Did you have any reaction at all when I wrote,

If these preliminary valuation increases in my neighborhood and others in the West Ward  are made permanent, and the remaining valuations do not result in a significant increase to the City’s total Net Valuation Taxable, the subsequent city property tax bills that I and my neighbors receive will be a disaster for the Ward and for the City of Trenton. Who will be able to afford tax increases of anywhere near 40%, 50% or more? Not me. not most of my neighbors.

And, if I may speak directly to you, Councilmembers, not many of you, I would guess. Mr. Chester, your property increased in value by 55%. Mr. Harrison, yours by 43%. Mr. Bethea, yours by a relatively moderate 15%. Ms. Reynolds Jackson, you don’t live in the West Ward, but your East Ward property increased in value by nearly 67%!

Although certainly not a member of your body, I will hope that Mayor Jackson can empathize with these kinds of increases, even though his own property increased in valuation by a very minimal 2.4%, less than the rest of city as a whole, on average.

If you took any action at all in the last half year to address this current situation, I ask you, please, share with the residents and business owners all of what you did. Please release your correspondence to the Mayor, to the Administration, to the State. Please reveal what kind of responses you received. Please let us know what you and yor Council colleagues have done in the last half year on this matter, other than sit on your asses and vegetate.

I am outraged that you can speak to a reporter as if this is a problem that has popped up out of nowhere! I am appalled that your gut reaction is to “ask the state” for help. I am disgusted that the President of my City Council, also my local Ward Councilman, is so unprepared to deal with this.

Along with your comment last week about “riding the gravy train,” your failure to act in the last half-year – hell, your failure to even provide the basic courtesy of a reply to my letter to you back in January – is the last straw for me.

You’ve served well past your ability to make any contribution to the citizens of Trenton with your service on Council. You are unable to even recognize the outlines of a major crisis even when it is carefully laid out to you by a constituent. As a result, the last seven months have been utterly wasted. Now that you have heard several business owners appeal to Council about the damage that this revaluation will do to their livelihoods, only now you begin to realize what this will do to this City.

But I fear it’s too late. You’ve squandered the best chance to deal with this situation before it hit the fan. You’ve wasted the most precious commodity of all, time, as you’ve done nothing for 200 days. If I am misinformed about any work that you have been doing behind the scenes, I will be happy to be proved wrong. However, if your past record is any predictor of what you’ve done in this case, I don’t think I will be proved wrong.

So, Mr. Council President, if your best answer to this clear and present danger to the economic future of this City is to “let us try to figure out something” and “Ask the state” for help, if you haven’t “formulated a plan” by now, then I must again say, with all due respect, Kiss my ass!

Most Sincerely,
Kevin Moriarty

On 2017-01-20 11:54, Kevin wrote:

Good Morning, Councilmembers -

Information released this week by Appraisal Systems, Inc., (ASI) the City’s contractor charged since 2015 with the state-mandated Property Revaluation process, is very troubling. I am personally troubled by a property valuation that has increased nearly 45% from my current one. However, I am more concerned that my valuation and those of my neighbors in Cadwalader Heights as well as the rest of the West Ward and City nay have been calculated as the result of a critically flawed process.

When Council approved the revaluation process in March 2015, the official estimate for completion of the process as given to the press (http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2015/03/revaluation_of_trenton_properties_to_be_reflected.html) by the Administration was that “the new valuation is expected to appear in first-quarter tax bills for 2016.”

We are fully one year late in this process. Why is that? I and many other Trentonians heard anecdotally that ASI staff and resources, which were thin on the ground in our town, were pulled off the Trenton revaluation for one or more other New Jersey municipalities. Upon the conclusion of those assignments, attention was turned back to Trenton as ASI tried to catch up on lost time.As a result, other anecdotes tell me, the resulting effort was rushed and inadequately done, with less than appropriate examination done on several properties and neighborhoods. I hear many tales of non-existent bathrooms and bedrooms allocated to properties, for instance. I am concerned that too much of this revaluation may have done in a very superficial way.

This is certainly the case with my property. In the beginning of the process we received the expected postcard from the assessors, stating the time and date of their visit. Since the proposed was during weekday business hours, my wife and I were unavailable. Unlike the process outlined in the Revaluation Presentation of March 19, 2015 (http://www.trentonnj.org/Cit-e-Access/webpage.cfm?TID=55&TPID=15188), we did not receive a card notifying us of a second appointment. Nor, according to the process outlined in the Revaluation Presentation, did we ever receive a blue “estimate card” summarizing the findings of the assessors. Our assumption for the lack of these cards, for which we blame ourselves for making, was that the process was still delayed and on hold.

From what we hear, our experience was not unique, and is pretty typical at least for our part of town. The detailed, individualized process we were promised, and told would be “expected to appear in first-quarter tax bills for 2016″ did not happen.

I don’t know on what basis the revaluation of my property was done. I have requested my Property Record Card from ASI as suggested on the ASI website, but have as of today received no response, again.

Examining the 1-17-17 spreadsheet of residential property values on the ASI website, I see that similar significant  valuation increases have been calculated not only for my neighborhood, but nearby West Ward neighborhoods such as Hiltonia, Glen Afton, The Island and Berkeley Square.

Councilmembers, I well know that the rate of these valuation increases in my neighborhood and throughout the West Ward do not represent the eventual increase of the property taxes that will be charged to my property in the next tax year and going forward. I do know that the new tax rate will be based on the citywide revaluation. If the total rateables base of the City increases by a similar percentage to that of my property and those of my neighbors, the impact of the individual valuation will be moderate. That is how the process is supposed to work.

However, on the ASI spreadsheet, the significant increases in valuations seen in my and other local neighborhoods are nearly offset entirely by significant valuation decreases in other Trenton neighborhoods across the City. Nearly half of the properties on the spreadsheet show valuation decreases, some as much as 50%, 60% or more. Many of these are likely to be properties demolished or abandoned since the last valuation, but surely not the over 3100 thousands showing decreased value of 10% or more.

Taken as a whole, the total valuation of the nearly 10,000 properties on this spreadsheet has increased – city-wide – by only a little over 4.4%. If the increase on this spreadsheet is, as I believe, representative of what the eventual total increase will be for the entire City, then the total rateables base will not increase to the total necessary to moderate the massive increase in valuation of my property and those of my neighbors. My tax bill, and theirs, will rise. Significantly, painfully, and unsustainably.

Why do I believe that this spreadsheet, containing only about one-third of the total number of parcels in the City, is a representative sample of what the eventual total will be? Why am I so concerned now, before the new tax rates are calculated?

First, the size of the sample of this spreadsheet, at one-third of total of the City, is a large enough sample to be statistically significant.

Second, the increase in the total valuation since the last valuation in 1992 of this sample, at 4.4%, tracks very closely to the annual trend line shown in the city’s total annual valuation data since 1998, as summarized in the state Department of Community Affairs annual Property Tax tables (http://www.nj.gov/dca/divisions/dlgs/resources/property_tax.htm) From 1998 (the earliest year posted on the State website) to the most current year of 2015, the City of Trenton’s total Net Valuation Taxable increased by only 5.5% That tells me that ASI’s spreadsheet, though still incomplete, is an accurate representative sample for the purposes of forecasting the end result of the revision of tax rates based on this revaluation.

Third, most of the City’s more valuable residential properties are located in neighborhoods already on this spreadsheet. Many of the West Ward neighborhoods listed above are numbered among the city’s largest residential lot sizes, and their higher values. Hiltonia is already on this list. Cadwalader Heights is already on this list. Glen Afton, already on this list.

As are many of the more recently constructed residential developments, some of whom are showing new valuations for the first time after expiration of many initial PILOT agreements. K Hovnanian is already here, as is 350 South Broad.

I am concerned that – even with all of these neighborhoods and new developments already baked in to a spreadsheet that shows Citywide property values increased only by 4.4% – the residential properties to be added to the City’s valuation will end up showing net valuation decreases, and therefore pull the City’s total rateables base further down from that 4.4%.

And I will only mention the City’s commercial properties to ask you all if you really think that over the last 25 years you will expect to see the total value of Trenton’s commercial property to lift the total tax rateables off the flat, flat floor they have been sitting on for the last quarter-century?

So, Councilmembers, for all those reasons, I do feel justified in being extremely concerned, as an individual property owner and as a Trenton citizen, about these preliminary results of the ASI process.

If these preliminary valuation increases in my neighborhood and others in the West Ward  are made permanent, and the remaining valuations do not result in a significant increase to the City’s total Net Valuation Taxable, the subsequent city property tax bills that I and my neighbors receive will be a disaster for the Ward and for the City of Trenton. Who will be able to afford tax increases of anywhere near 40%, 50% or more? Not me. not most of my neighbors.

And, if I may speak directly to you, Councilmembers, not many of you, I would guess. Mr. Chester, your property increased in value by 55%. Mr. Harrison, yours by 43%. Mr. Bethea, yours by a relatively moderate 15%. Ms. Reynolds Jackson, you don’t live in the West Ward, but your East Ward property increased in value by nearly 67%!

Although certainly not a member of your body, I will hope that Mayor Jackson can empathize with these kinds of increases, even though his own property increased in valuation by a very minimal 2.4%, less than the rest of city as a whole, on average.

Can any of you afford higher  tax bills any where near those kinds of rates? Remember, the City as a whole looks set to increase in value very little if at all. A rising tide of City wide property value increases will not allow you, or me, to absorb the pain of higher assessments by the benefit of a lower tax rate.

If the current results of the revaluation stand, the significant increases that seem to be concentrated in specific neighborhoods – Hiltonia on average increased by 32%, Cadwalader Heights by 39%, those neighborhoods  and many of their homeowners will hurt.

It will be hard to absorb heavy tax increases. Foreclosure will likely rise, and resale values will collapse. Who will want to buy my house -  or yours, Mr. Chester, or yours, Mr. Harrison, or yours, Ms Reynolds-Jackson – and pay even more of Trenton’s notoriously high property taxes, from which we see so little value?

In the lean years since 2008, my neigborhood has seen foreclosures and abandonments, and burnouts. I fear there will be more.

Councilmembers, I urgently and respectfully ask you to look into the way the revaluation process was conducted. As I discussed above, we know for a fact that the process was delayed. We need to know that this delay did not  produce – as my personal experience and many anecdotes attest – a rushed, incomplete and flawed process that will harm thousands of your constituents, and perhaps even many of yourselves.

If you find this to be a flawed process, please suspend it and if necessary, begin it again.

Thank you,

Respectfully,

Kevin Moriarty

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