Taxpayer Coalition President Hammers Mayor over Revaluation
Problems with property assessments were not limited to waterfront, Cammarato says
Samuel J. Cammarato wants an apology.
The head of the Berkeley Township Taxpayers Coalition said at last night's Township Council meeting that Mayor Jason J. Varano erred when he issued a statement in April after a private firm reviewed the results of the controversial revaluation.
Cammarato then read a quote from the Berkeley Patch that Varano made criticizing the council's hiring of Lawrenceville-based Martin Appraisal Associates and the money expended on the report.
"These expenditures of taxpayer money were done solely to appease a small percentage of waterfront property owners whose assessments had not gone up in some cases for 19 years," the mayor said on April 25. "When the assessment doesn’t change for that long a period of time in a waterfront community, the new assessments will have a dramatic impact on property owners’ tax bill."
"They should have done an excellent job, not an adequate job within industry standards," Amato told Berkeley Patch in April. "Hundreds if not thousands of residents were severely impacted by higher property taxes as a result of this revaluation. Many will end up losing their homes because they just can't afford to pay the increase in property taxes. It was our obligation, our responsibility to all taxpayers, to audit the results of the revaluation to make certain it was done and done fairly."
Cammarato, Teakwood Drive, said that the Martin Associates report found that several thousand properties that may have been incorrectly assessed, in both waterfront and senior communities.
"I believe you, Mr. Mayor, owe the people and property owners an apology for saying it was just waterfront property owners you were trying to appease," Cammarato said.
Varano said his quote had been "taken out of context."
He also said - as he has many times in past - that property owners who felt their assessments were incorrect should file appeals with the Ocean County Board of Taxation.
Martin Associates President Richard J. Carabelli Jr. outlined the results of the 32-page report in April at a special meeting held at Central Regional High School. The report stated that Certified Valuations Inc. had performed the revaluation according to "generally accepted" industry standards.
Carabelli's firm examined data from the township tax assessor's office and sales data for 300 properties in the township chosen at random. The survey found an accuracy rate of 84 percent. But Certified field inspectors were unable to gain access to some of the properties and had to estimate assessments. When that was taken into account, the revaluation accuracy rate rose to 87 percent, the report states.
Carabelli said that Certified Valuations Inc. had performed the revaluation according to "generally accepted" industry standards. The firm examined data from the township tax assessor's office and sales data for 300 properties in the township chosen at random. The survey found an accuracy rate of 84 percent. But Certified field inspectors were unable to gain access to some of the properties and had to estimate assessments. When that was taken into account, the revaluation accuracy rate rose to 87 percent.
Carabelli also recommended that township Tax Assessor Eric L. Zanetti take another look at two sections of the township - some oceanfront portions in South Seaside Park and some models in the senior villages - and re-examine the assessments.
Cammarato said at last night's meeting that he and other coalition members met with the deputy director of the state Division of Taxation recently for more than two hours to discuss Berkeley's revaluation.
He asked division officials for the number of towns that Certified Valuations Inc. had done from 2004 to 2010.
By 2006, Certified was doing revaluations in 16 towns throughout the state, Cammarato said.
"Here's a company we paid $1.2 million to do our revaluation, while they were doing 15 other towns," Cammarato said. "How many certified employees do you think they had to handle these 16 towns? Take a guess."
Then he answered his own question.
In 2006, there were five New Jersey licensed appraisers to do 16 towns, he said.
"My question to you is what type of quality work do you think we can expect?" he asked the governing body
Council members on Dec. 31 also unanimously agreed to hired Philadelphia-based Dilworth Paxon for $20,000 to review Certified Valuations's contract to determine if there have been any contract violations.
Property owners in the township's oceanfront and waterfront communities saw their tax bills soar last year, the township's first revaluation since 1991.