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By Jayed Rahman
A number of city taxpayers who have been hit hard with big tax increases in their end-of-year tax bills as a result of the recent property revaluation and higher tax levy of 4.06-percent have said they may not be able to afford the higher taxes in a city hall protest on Tuesday evening.
The great increases — in some cases $4,000 — came about because the bills are retroactive to January 1st, 2015, said tax assessor Richard Marra. As a result the bills require property owners, who paid less in taxes for second and first quarters based on old assessments, to make up the difference.
Though some property owners saw increases others witnessed decreases because their high assessment resulted in larger payments to the city than needed. Those taxpayers saw heavy discounts on their bills that went out last week.
More than 30 city taxpayers protested the new increases among them Suzette Serrano whose mother’s taxes went from $8,000 to $12,000 on their Murray Avenue home. Her mother saw a tax increase of $4,000, she said.
“Are we going to steal to pay our taxes?” said Serrano. Frustrated, angry, and fearing they will lose their properties, taxpayers said they do not know how to gather enough money to pay the municipal taxes.
“I don’t know how to pay these taxes,” said Mohammed Makansi, a Main Street business owner.
The increases came with little notice said Argelis Guzman, a homeowner on East 23rd Street. ”Had I known that I would have put my house on sale,” said Guzman, whose taxes went from $7,200 to $11,000.
“What I’m thinking of doing is to shut down and move out of state,” said Bob Halak. He said he’s thinking of laying off about 15 employees at his small Getty Avenue factory and move to Pennsylvania.
“What you’re doing is chasing all the business people away,” he said. He said his quarterly taxes went from $12,900 to $23,000. Commercial properties have been the hardest hit following the 2014-15 revaluation because their assessments either increased or remained the same. Some saw their taxes double.
“We can’t continue this endless cycle of tax increase, tax increase, and tax increase,” said Michael Symonds, Eastside section resident. “I don’t know how people are going to survive.”
“There’s going to be a lot more foreclosures. There’s going to be a lot more boarded up homes. We’re going the way of Camden,” said Symonds.
The tax assessor said property owners should see some relief during the first and second quarters of 2016 when the retroactive increases will disappear from their bills. However, that appears partially true – those who must pay significant sums in retroactive taxes will see decreases – those who saw credits and heavy discounts in their third and fourth quarter taxes will see an increase come next year.
City officials have many a times said the new assessed values will result in savings for city taxpayers who were paying taxes based on appraisals done at the peak of the housing market in 2007.
Akkas Ali, who owns a one-family home on Linwood Avenue, said his property assessment went up from $280,000 to $317,000. “Mines went up $40,000,” said Ali contradicting Marra who said property owners saw a general decrease in their assessments.
Marra told Ali he should have appealed. Ali said he met with the Appraisal Systems, the company that conducted the revaluation, at the Paterson Museum earlier in the year, and got an insignificant $2,500 assessment reduction.
The tax assessor pointed out that Ali had another chance to appeal with the Passaic County Board of Taxation. Ali said he did not know he had two chances to appeal. “That might have been a short coming on your part,” said Marra.
Some property owners blamed the city council for approving a levy increase of 4.06-percent to collect enough revenue to run the city after municipal tax base shrank by 30-percent – from $8.2 billion to $5.75 billion.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, who serves as chairman of the finance committee, said mayor Jose “Joey” Torres administration wanted a 4.15-percent. The council adopted a lesser 4.06-percent, he pointed out.
Morris previously questioned the administration’s calculation methods to retroactively charge property owners for tax bills that were already paid. Marra in his presentation to the public explained the retroactive resulted from delays in budget adoption.
Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman, pointed out the short time period in which the property owners are being forced to pay thousands in taxes. He pointed out the third quarter bills are due on October 6th, 2015 and the fourth quarter bills are due in November 1st, 2015.
“Who has $3,000 extra in their pockets?” said Tavarez using numbers Marra handed out for an example property on Union Avenue. Property owners will experience considerable pain coming up with this amount of money in such a short period, said Tavarez. He said they will have little choice but to raid their savings – even then, he said, if national savings rates are any indication, they won’t find enough dollars to pay their tax bills.
“Time is running out for a lot of people here,” said Symonds.
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Julio Tavarez, Ken Morris, Kenneth Morris