25 March 2011

Adjusting Open Space Tax Rate is Child's Play

What happens to property tax rates after a town-wide revaluation, such as the one recently completed in Hillsborough?  As my high school calculus teacher might say, the math here is "child's play".  In order to collect the same amount of taxes, when the assessed value rises, the tax rate must go down.

We have already seen this calculation put into place with the proposed school tax.  On Monday the School Board is expected to propose a new tax rate of $1.45 per $100 of assessed value, where the old rate was just over $2.00.  The Township Committee will propose a similar adjustment in their upcoming budget.

So far, so good.

But what happens to other fees that aren't necessarily property taxes, but are tied directly to property values?  Shouldn't those be adjusted also?

In dozens of New Jersey communities that have undergone revaluations over the past several years, the answer is either "no", or "we didn't think of it".  Incredible!

The example at hand is the Open Space Tax.  In Hillsborough, the tax  - approved by voters in the mid-90s to preserve open space and farmland - is currently set at 4 cents per $100.  Leaving the tax rate as it is would result in an unjustified windfall for the town, and create an increased, unapproved, tax burden for property owners.

Amazingly, nearly 75% of towns that have found themselves in this situation have done just that - collectively receiving a bonus of more than $15 million.

Not in Hillsborough, where Mayor Gloria McCauley has instructed the township attorney to investigate how to legally change the voter-approved tax rate to reflect the reassessments.

After that, the rest is, indeed, child's play.

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