TRENTON — Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, pulled his countywide assessment bill from a scheduled vote in the full Assembly on Thursday, at the request of the county’s mayors, he said.
He called it a delay, not a permanent retreat, on a bill to require Atlantic County to eliminate municipal assessors in favor of a county property-tax assessment office.
The head of the Atlantic County Mayors Association said the group needs more information on cost.
“Nobody has any numbers,” said Association President Lisa Jiampetti, the Democratic mayor of Egg Harbor City, of concerns the bill was moving too fast.
She said the mayors group wants information on the cost of switching to a county plan, how it will be paid for, and how the special needs of Atlantic City and its casino properties will be handled before the bill goes to an Assembly vote.
The group recently passed a resolution opposing the bill, A-546, and strongly recommending that a sponsor of any such future legislation include funding sources and a detailed cost analysis in any bill, and that the sponsor present the bill to the mayors association and to the freeholders at public meetings.
Atlantic County freeholders unanimously passed a resolution May 21 asking Mazzeo to table the legislation “until such time as the costs can be ascertained” and discussions continued with the freeholders’ Countywide Assessment Committee.
But Mazzeo said he is still awaiting information from the county on what it estimates the startup costs will be to establish a new office and staff it, after meeting with that freeholder committee April 9.
The bill would give Atlantic County the responsibility for property tax assessment in all of the county’s 23 municipalities, freeing towns from having to pay assessors and spend large amounts on periodic revaluations.
It would be based on the Gloucester County pilot plan that Gloucester County officials have estimated saved taxpayers there about $2 million a year since 2015.
The Gloucester County startup cost of about $9 million was covered by the state. While Mazzeo has said the state will also cover Atlantic County’s startup costs, the amount is not in the bill.
Mazzeo has said the program will be less expensive for Atlantic County to start than it was in Gloucester County, because all of the county’s towns are at or near 100% valuation. That means no new revaluations will be required to start it, he said, unlike in Gloucester County. Revaluations can cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars per town.
The freeholder committee is chaired by Freeholder John Risley, of Egg Harbor Township, who has long opposed Mazzeo’s plan to replace municipal assessors with a county office.
His committee came up with a recommendation in 2014 for the county to hire five property canvassers to help local tax assessors keep current.
That would avoid the high cost of revaluations every five to 10 years, which can run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $1 million. But it would cost the county about $400,000 a year.
The freeholders supported the Risley plan at the time, but County Executive Dennis Levinson did not, saying it would only add a layer of bureaucracy and not save the towns money overall or give the county the control over assessments it needs.
A committee of the mayors association also supported a countywide approach some years ago. But many of the mayors involved then have since left office.
Risley, a Republican, is also running against Mazzeo in this year’s Assembly race.
“He came to our committee to ask us what his plan would cost the county,” Risley said. “He should know what the cost would be.”
Risley, who said Gloucester County has 110,000 line items of property and 19 full-time county assessment employees, estimated Atlantic County and its 156,000 line items would need 27 full-time employees plus three full-time attorneys for tax court purposes.
He has said for several years the Gloucester County model would be too expensive. The county’s towns now have 15 part-time assessors and 8 full-time assessors, he said.
“What irks me is Mazzeo does not know what this is going to cost Atlantic County, and there are no guarantees of the initial cost being covered,” Risley said. “It’s sloppily written — reminds me of the PILOT bill and that mess. The 13.5% (of PILOT payments that were supposed to go to the county) wasn’t in there and we had to go to court to get it.”
The bill was approved by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee in December, and the Appropriations Committee on May 20.