Jersey Shore residents shouldn't waste any time wondering if their taxes will go up in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
They will. Without a doubt.
That was the somber message tax attorney Jeff J. Horn had for members of the Regular Republican Organization of Berkeley Township Monday night.
Toms River-based Horn was originally scheduled to speak along with Berkeley Tax Assessor Eric L. Zanetti at the Central Regional Middle School, but Zanetti had to cancel because of bronchitis.
Municipal, county and school budgets will rise, as officials struggle with plummeting ratable bases due to the storm which slammed into the Jersey Shore on Oct. 29, he said.
"The ripple effect is going to impact all of us," Horn said. "That's the basics. It is going to cost all of us a couple of bucks."
Deadline to appeal looming
Horn urged any homeowners whose property was destroyed or substantially damaged to file for a reduction in their property assessments, under a little-known state statute.
State statute N.J.S.A. 54:4-35.1 allow residents to appeal for the material depreciation of their homes due to natural disasters like Sandy from Oct. 1 to Jan. 10 the following year, Horn said.
"How many people know about the law?" he asked. "Nobody."
Berkeley homeowners impacted by Sandy must notify Zanetti by Jan. 10 to request an inspection for a possible drop in their property assessments, he said.
"Just give him a piece of paper with your name and address on it," Horn said. "That is sufficient notice."
Residents who do receive reduced assessments will only keep them until their homes are rebuilt or habitable again.
"If you rebuild, it's put back on the tax rolls," he said. "If you can live in the house, it's substantially complete."
For residents who are unsure if they should ask for a reconsideration of their assessments, Horn had an answer.
"I would err on the side of caution and send in the form," he said. "Leave it to the assessor to do the right thing and take something off."
Horn is a past member of the Ocean County Board of Taxation.
"The standard is to take off 30 percent," he said. "The key is to give the assessor a chance. I was on the board. I always gave the person the benefit of the doubt. I always took that improvement off."
Rising insurance costs
Homeowners and flood insurance costs will surely rise over the next several years. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's advisory base flood elevations were issued in December.
"The code is changing," he said. "There's no question about that. It's going to cost you more money. It's not a happy event for anybody, even those whose property has not been impacted."
Horn said he is repeatedly asked 'Who is going to buy my house?' " since Sandy.
"You can talk to 10 different persons, you get 10 different opinions," he said. "I have no idea."
Recovering from Sandy will take quite some time, Horn said.
"People are going to suffer badly," he said. "Say you have to raise your house. We're talking about a lot of money. How fast are you going to be able to get it done? Not everyone is going to be able to run right in and get rebuilt. We're running out of legitimate contractors."
Towns like Seaside Heights are already borrowing money to rebuild boardwalks and other shore attractions, which will impact tax rates for years, he said.
"That builds a fixed item into the budget that can never go down until it's paid off," he said.
"Everybody who pays taxes is getting a tax increase," Horn said.