Property owners who suffered significant damage or whose homes or properties were completely destroyed by Hurricane Sandy are entitled to have their properties reassessed for tax purposes, Freeholder Deputy Director John C. Bartlett says.
However, many people do not know that. And the ramifications of that are staggering, Bartlett said Wednesday at the Ocean County Board of Freeholders' bimonthly preboard meeting.
The impact will be felt throughout the county, but most acutely in those towns where the damage was the greatest and they will need help, Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari said.
"It’s going to take at least three years to recover (fully)," Vicari said.
The issue of property taxes has been on the minds of many homeowners in the days since Sandy turned lives upside down and washed homes away. Many asked about fourth-quarter property taxes, which came due just two days after Sandy destroyed so much. And while many towns have taken steps to try to mitigate what surely feels like salt in a very raw wound, state law governs the collection of the taxes, town officials have said.
Municipal budgets are made up based on the town's tax base. That figure -- the total assessed value of properties in the town -- is based on the value of the properties as of Oct. 1 of the previous year.
"By current law, the number on books (for each property) as of Oct. 1 is the valuation the assessor and town are required to use" in calculating property taxes, Bartlett said.
Because many people are not aware that they can request a revaluation, there is the potential for a significant number of tax appeals next year, which creates problems for towns trying to create or stick to a budget, Bartlett said, not to mention the anger of those who are billed for property taxes on a house that no longer exists.
The problem, Bartlett said, is that under current state law, only the property owner can request a revaluation.
"The tax assessor is not authorized to do it on his or her own," Bartlett said.
Bartlett said he spoke with Gov. Chris Christie regarding the issue, and said the governor is very aware of the impending problem and is looking for a solution, whether it's through legislation or through an executive order telling tax assessors to conduct revaluations of damaged properties.
"He is going to take the bull by the horns and resolve this issue, Bartlett said. "This is a freight train rolling at us that we can derail."
Long-term, however, the impact of the reduced property values will be significant, especially for the smaller barrier island towns, Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari said.
"It’s going to take at least three years to recover (fully)," Vicari said, that the smaller towns will need help to survive during that time, because of the significant drop in their tax base.
Bartlett said that impact will be felt countywide, because the barrier island towns make up a third of the county's total tax base -- roughly $33 billion of the county's $100 billion base.
"It is incumbent on all of us – municipalities and the county – to delay our (2013) budgeting process until these revaluations are done," Bartlett said.