Commercial owners hit hard by reval

| 05 Jul 2012 | 12:17

WEST MILFORD — Mary Ann Minikus opened her restaurant, Tuscany Brew House, just six months ago out on Route 23. She told the township council last Wednesday that her business is doing well. She employs about 48 people, many of them local, and is a good neighbor, donating to several fundraisers in the community.

That may change soon. Minikus said the new revaluation will almost double her property taxes, from $18,000 to about $34,000 per year.

“It’s devastating to business owners,” said Minikus. “For me, I’d probably close after just six months.”

Judy Ziegler has been a business owner in town for 40 years. The Town Tavern Country Inn is a landmark in West Milford. Ziegler and her husband have owned and run the Macopin Road eatery for decades. They are open three days a week – Thursday, Friday and Saturday – and have private parties on Sunday. That’s about all they can do, given their location, said Ziegler.

“I’m a back road business,” said Ziegler, explaining why they can only open three days each week. “If I was on 23 or 46, we’d be open seven days.”

Ziegler said she estimates her taxes will increase from $30,000 per year to $48,000 with the new revaluation figures. At almost $1,000 per week, it just might be too much for this West Milford landmark to survive.

“It looks like we are gonna have to close,” she said.

What options? Ziegler said there’s nothing she can do with her property. Her parking lot has enough space for 24 cars. But that’s all she can do with that part of her property. She can’t build on the parking lot because it’s too close to a brook. She offered to rent it to the township as a park and ride at least for part of the time. It would be available Monday through Thursday until 4 p.m., she said. She appealed to the council to help her figure out where she should go from here.

“What are you going to have if we walk away?” she asked. “Sorry West Milford, you just lost the $30,000 you were getting.”

Numbers support assessments Earlier this year, residential property owners – specifically those who live on the various lakes throughout the township - gathered together to appeal to the council to help them with the effects the revaluation was having on them. Many are looking at substantial increases in their property taxes. They’ve come to the council giving their concerns about the way the revaluation was done, asking for a phasing in of the increase.

Township tax assessor Brian Townsend had explained to the lakefront property owners that the new assessments are in line with the selling prices of recently sold properties. He was on hand last week to address concerns from the commercial property owners. Townsend said the numbers bear out the assessments on the commercial properties too.

He said there have been 15 usable commercial sales since the revaluation. The assessed value to sale price ration is 98.67 percent. Looking at the 18 active listings of commercial properties in the township, Townsend said the assessed value/list price ratio is just over 100 percent. Finally, he said, the three properties that are currently under contract have a 96.57 percent assessment to sale price ratio.

Those 36 properties represent over 10 percent of the 315 total commercial ratables in the township and they have between 96 and 100 percent of the assessment to sale price ratio. Townsend called this showed the assessment values are “fair and equitable.” He said he could not comment on taxes but he did tell the commercial property owners to make an appointment with him to go over things. They also have the option to appeal their assessments next year and he encouraged them to do it. The deadline for next year’s appeals is April 1.

Forty commercial property owners have appealed this year, but the cut off for appeals was May 1. Hundreds of residential property owners have appealed to the county about their assessments. Those hearings are currently underway.

They're not alone But for Minikus and Ziegler, that may come too late. The hit they take on this year’s taxes may be too much for either of them to survive in this economy, and possibly many more. As Ziegler said, she is not the only business owner in this predicament.

“A lot are in the same situation,” said Ziegler. “Many are passing the increase on to their tenants. There will be less business in town.”

Photo by Linda Smith Hancharick

The Town Tavern Country Inn has been on Macopin Road for 40 years. Owner Judy Ziegler said she may have to close the eatery because of the increase in her taxes.