Hopewell Township revaluation behind schedule

Question-and-answer session, featuring Martin Guhl, will be broadcast on local cable channel shortly

By John Tredrea
   Property revaluations in Hopewell Township are taking longer than expected, according to Deputy Mayor David Sandahl and Tax Assessor Toni Sost, who gave an update on the timeline for the ongoing project Monday.
   Ms. Sost said Monday at the Hopewell Township Committee meeting that the large geographic area — 58 square miles — of Hopewell Township is a factor in the revaluation’s running behind schedule.
   Mr. Sandahl and others said Certified Valuations Inc. — the firm doing the revaluation — also might have underestimated the variety of residential and commercial properties in the township when taking on the job.
   All township property owners should receive letters from Certified Valuation by mid-February stating at what value Certified will recommend their respective properties be assessed.
   Meanwhile, for the sake of residents who’d like to learn more now, township officials are taping an informal question-and-answer session with Martin Guhl, county tax assessor, and residents today (Thursday) at 4 p.m. at the municipal building. "We’re going to be broadcasting the session on our local Comcast Cable Channel 95 repeatedly over the next few weeks," Mayor Vanessa Sandom said late Tuesday.
   Administrator Bruce Hilling said Wednesday that broadcast times will be: 8 a.m., 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. weekdays and noon and 8 p.m. weekends.
   After getting his/her letter, an owner not satisfied with his or her recommended value will be able to schedule a meeting with Certified. Following that meeting, Certified will decide whether to lower its recommended assessed value for the property in question. Ms. Sost’s office and the property owner will be informed of that decision in writing.
   This phase of the revaluation is expected to be complete in late February or early March. It was originally slated for completion Jan. 10, then Feb. 10. Now it has been pushed back again.
   A property owner not satisfied with Certified’s final opinion on the value of his or her property may contact the township tax assessor’s office or file an appeal with the Mercer County Board of Taxation.
   Normally the deadline for that appeal would be April 1. But, because the township revaluation is taking longer than expected, the county has agreed the deadline could be extended somewhat, but no date has been given.
   "Several of us expressed concerns about the vendor’s rate of data gathering at a Township Committee meeting last November. We believe the vendor may have underestimated the variety of residential and commercial properties in Hopewell Township. That is one reason we got quick agreement to adjust the schedule from the county tax administrator and the vendor at our meeting last week," Mr. Sandahl said late Tuesday.
   Mr. Sandahl said the township is going to monitor Certified’s progress closely until the job is done. He and other committee members have been voicing concern for weeks about how long Certified was taking and whether property owners would have a fair amount of time to schedule a meeting with the firm.
   "The contract with the Certified Valuations is for $574,000 and includes a financial penalty provision. Our first focus is to see that the job is completed properly, emphasizing accurate assessments and fairness to taxpayers. We want every property owner to be able to review his/her new valuation, and have a chance for a fair hearing of any concerns before moving to the next step in the revaluation process," Mr. Sandahl said.
   "We are tracking progress daily and will have another formal review meeting with the county tax administrator, the vendor, and our staff on Feb. 2," Mr. Sandahl added.
   Properties in Hopewell Borough and Pennington also are being revaluated by Certified. As of Wednesday, according to Hopewell Administrator/Clerk Michele Hovan, borough property inspections had been completed. She said she’d been told by Certified that letters "are about ready to go out" to property owners.
   Pennington’s revaluation process is complete, a borough official said Wednesday.