Stockton revaluation may take another year

The Borough Council again is talking to a Trenton firm, which decided not to take the job earlier this year.

By: Linda Seida
   STOCKTON — Three months after a Trenton firm declined to perform a revaluation of all properties in the borough, officials again are negotiating with the company, but the job likely won’t be finished until 2006, three years after the county ordered the revaluation.
   Vital Services Group told the Borough Council earlier this year it was not interested in the job if it could not begin by May 1. The borough was forced to decline because an update of the town’s tax maps was not yet complete and approved by the state, two steps necessary before a revaluation could begin.
   "We could not guarantee the process could be done in 2005," said Councilman Michael Hagerty, chairman of the committee overseeing the revaluation. "They only have a certain number of employees and could take only a certain number of jobs."
   The reevaluation is a professional service so it is exempt from the bid process.
   To move the process along, the council recently considered the option of having its tax assessor perform a reassessment instead, which wouldn’t require updated tax maps and could cost just as much. That option has been discarded.
   "If there had been a huge savings, we might have considered it," Mr. Hagerty said. Instead, "We felt it’s better for our town to do this right. If it takes six months longer, at least it’s done right."
   The county has extended the 2005 deadline "as long as we’re working on it," Mr. Hagerty said.
   That deadline was already an extension of an earlier deadline.
   Now the tax maps are almost ready, and Mr. Hagerty said they should be ready to submit to the state for approval by July 1.
   But updated tax maps won’t speed the process much. State approval could push the completion date back further. It could take between two and six months and maybe longer for the state to approve the maps, according to Mr. Hagerty.
   Stockton, a tiny town operating on a budget of slightly more than half a million dollars, last year put off beginning the process until this year so it could spread out the payments for the job until 2011. If it had begun last year, payments would have been spread out only until 2010.
   State law allows the borough to amortize over five years the cost of the revaluation and any related work, including the engineering cost to update the tax maps, which is approximately $8,000.
   "Admittedly, things were not done last year for budget reasons," Mr. Hagerty said.
   Estimates last year placed the cost of the revaluation itself at approximately $25,000. Although the borough has not received a new proposal yet from Vital, the cost is expected to be similar now, according to Mr. Hagerty.
   A revaluation has not been performed in Stockton in at least 15 years.
   A revaluation is necessary because the ratio of selling prices to assessed values has fallen in the borough. When a municipality’s ratio falls to a percentage in the 70s, the county requires a revaluation. Stockton’s is 66 percent. The goal is to be at 100 percent, where assessed value equals market value.