Atlantic County’s equalized tax rate is expected to be about 5 percent less than in 2013, according to a proposed budget announced by County Executive Dennis Levinson — who also made a strong call for a rollback of localized “home rule.”
The proposed equalized tax rate of just less than 39 cents per $100 of assessed property value in 2014 is about 1.9 cents less than the final 2013 rate of 40.9 cents, said Levinson and County Administrator Jerry DelRosso.
That final number for last year, however, ended up being higher than what was predicted at this same time last year — at first 34 cents, then 36.6 cents — because of tax-appeal settlements in Atlantic City, which resulted in the city overpaying county taxes by $16.2 million from 2007 to 2012 and the remaining 22 towns needing to make up the difference.
Atlantic City also had outdated property assessments that resulted in the city paying an additional $2 million less, which also had to be absorbed by the other towns.
“This situation would not be as severe had the city complied with the state’s demand that they conduct a (revaluation),” Levinson said in his budget address Tuesday. “Instead, they delayed doing so. At the present time, there is little we can do about how Atlantic City handles its property-tax assessments. As a judge told me when we tried, the county has no standing when it comes to property-tax assessments.”
Levinson has asked the state to pass legislation to allow for countywide tax assessments, which he said “would eliminate the inequities inherent in the current system where some pay more than they should while others pay less.”
Freeholder Colin Bell, the senior Democratic freeholder, said he agreed with the call for countywide assessments.
“We’ll be able to establish a more accurate equalized value each year,” Bell said. “Right now, we have to wait for each municipality to resolve each tax appeal issue they have.”
The overall proposed county budget of just more than $196.6 million is an increase of 1.4 percent from 2013, while the amount to be raised by taxes, about $156.5 million, is an increase of just more than one-half of 1 percent, Levinson said.
“Atlantic County has responded aggressively and proactively to a challenging economy,” Levinson said in his address. “For the past 14 years, our budget has always been below the state-mandated cap that restricts how much property taxes can be raised. Last year we were down $3.6 million. This year we are down $3.5 million. In 2008, when the recession began, we began to take more severe actions to reduce costs. Since then, we eliminated or froze 122 positions, reduced other expenses in excess of $1 million and mandated employee furloughs.”
Levinson also called for the state to “abandon the politically popular but antiquated concept of home rule” and push for more consolidation and regionalization.
“It is simply not sustainable.” Levinson said. “New Jersey has more government per square mile than any place on earth. We have 565 independent municipalities, 603 school districts and more than 500 mayors and police chiefs. Is there any wonder why property taxes in New Jersey are among the highest in the nation? ... We need municipal cooperation. In the past, many municipalities had been reluctant to relinquish direct control over some of their operations. Now, hopefully, they are beginning to realize that their citizens can be served as well or better through a shared-service arrangement.”
The proposed budget must be introduced and approved by the Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Contact Steven Lemongello:
@SteveLemongello on Twitter