Revaluation moves ahead

Process may begin in March.

By: Jessica Beym
   The Township Committee awarded a contract Monday for $158,000 to Appraisal Systems Inc. of Mendham to perform a township revaluation, which would start as early as March.
   The revaluation would be the first conducted in Cranbury since 1986 and would not be completed until the beginning of 2007, according to Township Tax Assessor Steve Benner
   The revaluation is expected to bring property values up to the current market values. Mr. Benner said property values are rising unevenly between commercial and residential properties and some commercial owners feel they are paying too much. The length of time since the last revaluation, the changes of the municipality, and the changes of the demographics are reasons Mr. Benner said the municipality needs to revalue its property. Commercial property owners have been filing tax appeals with the township because their property assessments are exceeding the percentage required by law.
   "The revaluation is not designed to raise taxes. The revaluation is designed to get everyone on the same playing field. It only rights the wrong. It is revenue neutral," said Mr. Benner.
   Members of the committee said they know the process will be a long, detailed and confusing, but they plan on keeping residents and business owners informed as best as possible.
   In the next few months, Appraisal Systems Inc. will set up an inspection schedule, and go through every home in every neighborhood. Residents will be notified of the times, and if there is a conflict, it will be rescheduled.
   A different schedule will be set up for the revaluation of commercial properties and Mr. Benner said he plans on accompanying the staff during these inspections to ensure the commercial properties are being evaluated properly.
   "Each month they will file a progress report which will be sent to the township and the county," said Mr. Benner. "We monitor all the information they provide."
   Mr. Benner said he hopes to see the fieldwork finished by September so that the township has enough time to review the information.
   "The work that comes after is the harder part. The inspection is just a small portion of the process. There is a great amount of research to do and they must come up with the criteria to evaluate the properties," said Mr. Benner.
   Throughout the process, Mr. Benner and members of the committee said, it is important to keep residents and commercial property owners informed, and to give them an idea of what to expect.
   "It would be impossible to predict the outcome on a collective basis," said Mr. Benner, who has been the project supervisor on revaluations in West Windsor and Plainsboro. "Each town is so different. The dynamics are different."
   Once the assessments are determined, the company will send out letters to property owners with the new assessed values. Mr. Benner said residents have a right to challenge the assessments on a county or state level, but the figures, which are based on comparable retail sales, will be very specific.
   "For residents, it’s very black and white," said Mr. Benner.
   Information pamphlets explaining the revaluation are available in Town Hall. In addition, Mr. Benner said, he would be happy to set up appointments with people to answer any questions.
   "The object is to get it done on time and accurately," said Mr. Benner. "We owe it to the township and the taxpayers to get the best results possible."