TOMS RIVER - Township Attorney Gregory P. McGuckin said the mayor and Township Council cannot order another reassessment of properties in areas like Toms River's Holiday City at Silverton community, where a recently completed revaluation more than doubled the assessed value of the average home.
McGuckin was responding to public comments by Councilman Dan Rodrick at Wednesday's council meeting, as well as a letter that Rodrick sent to Holiday City residents claiming that state law allows township Tax Assessor William Laird to take another look at sections of town — like the adult communities of Holiday City and the Gardens of Pleasant Plains — where home values have soared following the revaluation, leading to a property tax increase.
Rodrick said property taxes in Holiday City have increased "40 to 100%" under the new values. He has said repeatedly that he believes the new assessed values are not correct and will hurt senior citizens in the area, some of whom rely on Social Security for their only income.
According to figures provided by the township, the average assessed value of the nearly 1,600 homes in Holiday City at Silverton has jumped from $66,933 to $148,516, an increase of about 121%. Holiday City, located off Church Road, was one of the first adult communities built in the area, with construction starting in the late 1960s.
The average sales price of homes in Holiday City Silverton was $152,562 in 2019, $162,124 in 2020 and $201,711, the mayor said, citing figures provided by the assessor's office and Professional Property Appraisers, the company hired to complete the revaluation.
Holiday City includes duplexes as well as detached homes, with houses ranging from a bit over 800 square feet to more than 1,300 square feet. Holiday City is in Ward 2, which is represented by Rodrick, who said he has fielded many calls from senior citizens worried about being able to pay the property tax increases that have come with the increase in home values.
Mayor Maurice B. "Mo" Hill Jr. said Laird had estimated that Holiday City properties were assessed at about 40% of their true market value before the revaluation, which was completed late last year by Professional Property Appraisers. That compares to a bit under 80% for the township as a whole before the revaluation process started.
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Hill noted that he had sent a letter to Holiday City residents, advising them that they can first call Professional Property Appraisers for a review of their new home value, and then, if they are not satisfied, they can file a tax appeal with the Ocean County Board of Taxation. He said he has received several calls from Holiday City residents about the new values.
Filing an appeal requires finding comparable homes that sold in an area to prove that your house is overvalued. The mayor said township officials plan to visit senior communities to explain the tax appeal process, and to help residents fill out forms if they qualify for the "Senior Freeze," a state property tax reimbursement program for seniors who meet certain income requirements.
McGuckin said Rodrick's letter contained false information, including his statement about the state statute governing tax assessments. But the councilman argued that McGuckin was incorrect, and in an email Rodrick quoted the statute and said his information about the ability for the assessor to review property values "was given to me by a township attorney in another town."
McGuckin said that the law permits the assessor to review property values only if there is an area of town that is considered to be severely under- or overvalued. The Ocean County Tax Board just certified that the assessed value of Toms River properties is at 100% following the completion of the revaluation, McGuckin said after the meeting.
The Ocean County Board of Taxation first ordered a revaluation of all township properties in January 2018, with new property values slated to take effect in 2020.
The revaluation was ordered because the assessed value of Toms River properties at the time was estimated to be 83.4%, significantly less than their true value, according to a letter sent to the township by county Tax Administrator Chelsea Skuby.
Hill also accused Rodrick of spreading misinformation, noting that in his letter to Holiday City residents, Rodrick wrote that he "was not in favor of Mayor Hill's plan to conduct this revaluation and made my concerns known" at the time the council voted to hire Professional Property Appraisers.
Hill pointed out that Rodrick voted in favor of awarding the $2.3 million contract to the Cinnaminson-based company in 2020. "You referred to the revaluation in your letter as Mayor Hill's revaluation. … You voted for it, you voted for the contract for PPA."
Rodrick says he voted for the contract because the company was recommended by the professional staff in Hill's administration. "Clearly Professional Property Appraisers got it wrong, and if I could go back and change my vote, I would," he said.
Hill said Toms River delayed the revaluation until the state certified the township's tax maps. These maps identify every parcel of land in town by lot and block, and also include features like easements, streams and railroad rights-of-way. Toms River could not postpone the revaluation any longer, the mayor said.
Hill said "several hundred" township residents have contacted Personal Property Appraisers so far with questions about their new property values.
McGuckin and Rodrick sparred on the dais Wednesday night after Hill asked the attorney to explain the state law on assessments.
"The mayor and council have no authority, and in fact would get in trouble, if they tried to direct" the tax assessor, or the company, Professional Property Appraisers, that recently completed the town-wide revaluation, McGuckin said. Under state law, tax assessors answer to the Ocean County Tax Board, and cannot be directed by public officials.
"You misquoted the statute, number 1, the statute applies when it is not a revaluation year," McGuckin said to Rodrick. "...You want to keep telling people false information….You are wrong, you lied, you are incorrect."
Rodrick interrupted McGuckin, attempting to respond, as Council President Kevin M. Geoghegan pounded on the gavel in an attempt to get Rodrick to stop speaking, and Councilman Justin Lamb said Rodrick was entitled to a response.
"You are doubling their taxes," Rodrick said.
He and Lamb voted against a salary ordinance Wednesday that included increases in the range of pay confidential and supervisory employees can receive over the next several years.
Rodrick termed the increases "obscene," but Geoghegan said, "I think these are reasonable increases."
"He is always in campaign mode," Geoghegan said of Rodrick. Earlier in the meeting, Rodrick had called Geoghegan "an embarrassment."
Rodrick, a Republican who has been highly critical of Hill's GOP administration, is expected by most political insiders to be a candidate for the mayor's office here in 2023, although he has made no announcement about his plans. Hill has not yet indicated if he will seek re-election.
Jean Mikle covers Toms River and several other Ocean County towns, and has been writing about local government and politics at the Jersey Shore for nearly 38 years. A finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in public service, she's also passionate about the Shore's storied music scene. Contact her: @jeanmikle, email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: No Holiday City NJ reassessing after revaluation doubled homes' value