Township’s properties to be reassessed

State statute requires property assessments to be based on market value. The reassessment will bring the properties in Upper Freehold in line with that statute.

By: Lauren Burgoon
   UPPER FREEHOLD — To bring township property assessment rates closer to market value, the state has ordered Upper Freehold to complete a reassessment of all properties within two years.
   State statute requires property assessments to be based on market value. The reassessment will bring the properties in the township in line with that statute, Upper Freehold tax assessor Steve Walters said.
   "Over the last few years, like every town in Monmouth County and the surrounding area, prices have been going up tremendously. That created this wider difference between assessment and sale prices," Mr. Walters said.
   The order will impact every Upper Freehold property owner but the reassessment will not necessarily thin residents’ wallets. Mr. Walters said many people fear that a reassessment automatically will result in a tax increase but that is not the case.
   "This is not a profit-making thing that will raise people’s assessment and raise their taxes," Mr. Walters said. "Rather it is to distribute fairly the responsibility of taxes so people are paying their fair share."
   He said the owner of a house that was appraised at $200,000 and is reassessed for $400,000 will not necessarily receive a doubled tax bill. All of Upper Freehold needs to be assessed and a new tax base established before owners will know if their bill will be more or less under after the reassessment. After the last reassessment in 1995 almost an equal number of property owners received higher and lower bills and the difference in both cases was around $200, he said.
   The exact timeframe for reassessment will be determined in the coming weeks. Upper Freehold has a Jan. 1, 2006, deadline for all reassessments to be in place, meaning the work can be completed during 2004 or 2005. The township is considering both possibilities and there are several elements influencing the decision, Mr. Walters said.
   "There are only 11 firms in the whole state licensed to complete this work. They are busy with other town reassessments," he said.
   The township also is exploring if there are economic advantages to completing the reassessment this year rather than next and whether the township tax maps are up to date.
   A yet to be determined, independent firm will complete the assessment. Firm employees will combine several pieces of data to determine a property’s assessment value, according to Mr. Walters.
   First, field employees will visit each property in Upper Freehold, including all homes, farms, commercial property and vacant land, to determine three main factors: the exterior measurements, the quality of the property in terms of building standards and how the property has been maintained. The field employees also will determine what is average in a neighborhood, like the ratio of bathrooms to bedrooms or whether most houses have finished basements.
   The field employees "are not dollars and cents people," Mr. Walters said. "Their job in the field is not to value (the property)." In other words, cosmetic factors, like outdated rugs or mismatched paint in a house, will not affect a property’s assessment value.
   Then the data from field employees will be put into a computer system to generate statistics about what properties are worth in Upper Freehold. Those figures will be compared to the sale prices of properties and analysts will run programs to equalize assessment with market value based on all of the data presented. After that is completed, a letter will go out to every property owner with the new assessed value of the lot.
   Although it may sound complicated, property owners in Upper Freehold will need to set aside less than five minutes to comply with the reassessment, Mr. Walters said. Field employees will spend about that amount of time in the average home and will work with property owners to find a mutually agreeable time, he said.
   Mr. Walter acknowledged that during Upper Freehold’s last reassessment some property owners were hesitant to let field employees complete the interior inspection. To ease concerns, a letter will go out to every property owner in the coming weeks that will name the firm to be used and describe the type of identification workers will carry so residents know what to expect. Owners who refuse to allow field employees to enter the properties will be assigned an assessment value based on the average of the neighborhood, which could leave them with a higher assessment value for their property, Mr. Walters said. He added that the assessment firm will make reasonable accommodations for the ill and the elderly if necessary.
   The reassessment process has a built-in appeals procedure for owners. The firm will have a three- to five-day window of meetings for residents with concerns about their new assessed value. If owners believe measurements or other data are incorrect they can appeal at the meeting, Mr. Walters said. He added that such miscalculations rarely occur.
   "I’ve been involved in several re-evaluations lately and I’ve found the workmanship to be at very high levels," he said. "The people who have requested meetings have been a very low percentage of the overall group. It’s been usually around 5 percent."
   Owners who refuse access to field workers still can appeal the reassessment value, but Mr. Walters said the remedy is usually to allow workers to correctly assess the property. Property owners who continue to deny access will have to accept the figure based on the neighborhood’s average assessment.
   The whole process, from visits by field employees to the notification of the reassessed values should take about eight months, according to Mr. Walters.
   At a recent Township Committee meeting, Mr. Walters urged property owners with questions about the reassessment to contact him or his assistant Donna Taylor at the municipal building at 758-7738, ext. 19. He said he also would be available to talk to community groups or at homeowner meetings to address concerns.