WEST MILFORD Imagine you discover that after the recent revaluation in town, your taxes this year were going up by $2,000. Or $4,000. Or even more. Many residents in the township don't have to imagine it because it's happening to them. Wednesday night, dozens of concerned taxpayers came to the council meeting to let their frustration known. They asked for answers as to how this could happen to just one group of residents - those who live on lakes - and want the reassessment figures thrown out.
Robert Moskin, a resident of Upper Greenwood Lake and president of the newly-formed Lakefront Property Owners of West Milford, explained to the council that it became clear to many that lakefront homeowners were singled out in this reassessment and the burden was shifted to them unfairly. That's how the group, which now has over 400 members in just a few weeks of existence, came into being. Many plan to mount appeals with the county tax office. He recounted "horror stories" of residents getting their new tax estimates and realizing $2,000, $4,000, $9,000 increases. He said the worst he's heard is someone with a $25,000 increase.
Moskin asked the mayor and council to take action against ASI, the reassessment company hired by the town to do the work.
"We all believe a grievous error has been made by the contractor, ASI," said Moskin. "The township paid $1 million for this."
Appraisal Systems, Inc. did the reassessment work.
Some residents told of obvious mistakes on their assessments, including gross square footage errors, house materials listed incorrectly and unpaved roads listed as paved. Some said the ASI employees didn't even enter their houses; those who did, stayed in one room for less than five minutes.
Horror stories One after another, residents went to the podium to tell the mayor and council about the jump in assessment they've received.
Dwight Faulkner, a 42-year resident of Pinecliff Lake, said his 1300 square foot log cabin sits on less than half an acre. His taxes were a little over $8,000 prior to the reassessment. Now, they are estimated to be close to $12,000.
"ASI has put us in the stratosphere," he said.
Nancy Lynch owns a house in Upper Greenwood Lake. She said the only improvement she's made on her house in the last few years is a dishwasher.
"We didn't go up hundreds," said Lynch about her taxes. "My taxes are in the twenties (thousands). I live in Upper Greenwood Lake, not Wycoff."
She called on the council to do something to help the lakefront homeowners.
"It's ridiculous. It's unfair. Why are we being penalized because we had the wherewithal to buy a house on lakefront?" she asked.
What can council do? According to township attorney Fred Semrau, the council had no choice but to do the reassessment. It was an order from Passaic County. When the assessments came in, the township assessor reviewed and approved them. Semrau said he talked to representatives of ASI, which is responsible for defending the assessments at appeal this year and next, and they stand by the assessments. He also gave examples of selling prices and new assessments; the assessments, which are supposed to be the current market value, were actually lower than the selling prices.
One resident suggested the council throw out this whole assessment and start over again.
Semrau did recommend that anyone going before the county or state tax court should consult with their attorney because not only can the county and state lower assessments, they can also raise them.
Residents wishing to appeal their assessments have until May 1 to do so. They can get information from the tax assessor's office in town hall.