In February, Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, introduced legislation to consolidate all Atlantic County property assessments in one office.
While shared-service agreements are intended to create savings, this proposal would result in Somers Point subsidizing the cost of assessments in Atlantic City, as well as paying to defend against its tax appeals. A town should never be penalized for being well-run, but that is what would happen to Somers Point.
Atlantic City, with one of the largest ratable bases in the state, has had the most tax appeals in the county for many years. It currently expends more than $1 million a year in legal fees defending against appeals. The county would be required to hire at least four to five full-time lawyers, plus staff, to cover this.
Somers Point has not suffered the incredible increase in tax appeals or tax dollars lost due to appeals that other municipalities have. It has handled appeals with nominal legal fees and a lone assessor. Removing these costs from Somers Point's budget will lower the local purpose tax, but any reduction will be offset by a significant increase to a taxpayer's county rate.
Under this bill, Somers Point would lose its ability to choose its revaluation company and its tax counsel and its ability to control its tax litigation. These are all decisions that impact its budget and should be left to its elected officials, who understand the town's budgetary constraints.
Finally, this bill fails to recognize the conflict that can exist between what is in the best interest of the entire county and what is in the best interest of a municipality's residents. At present, a municipality's assessor oversees the county's determination of that municipality's equalization ratio. This ratio impacts the county tax share. Losing this oversight safeguard is a concern.
Somers Point City Council has recognized the adverse impact that countywide assessing would have on its residents and previously passed a resolution opposing such a plan. This bill is fraught with problems that need to be addressed. It seems to have been proposed without any consideration for what may be good for Somers Point.
THOMAS G. SMITH
Councilman, First Ward