TRENTON — A bill requiring Atlantic County to start a countywide property-tax assessment program was approved Thursday by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee.

A cost analysis still has to be done to determine how much it would cost Atlantic County to start the program, said committee chairman and bill sponsor Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic.

He said he will work on that with county officials before the bill is taken up by the Appropriations Committee, likely early next year.

Assessing property taxes and keeping those assessments near 100 percent of equalized value has been a major issue for towns in the county for years and has led to tens of thousands of tax appeals since 2010, most of which came from Atlantic City.

The bill would extend a Gloucester County pilot program for countywide assessment to Atlantic County. Gloucester County has reported a savings of about $2 million per year since 2015. But it had its startup cost of about $9 million covered by the state.

County Executive Dennis Levinson said the plan has not been presented to the freeholder board or the mayors association, and does not identify a funding source to help the county get it started.

“Those are the three things that have to get done,” he said. “Terms and conditions have to be made clear.”

Testifying against the bill, A-546, were Atlantic County Freeholder Director Frank Formica and Freeholder John Risley, both Republicans, who have announced they will run for Assembly next year.

Legislation is needed for a county to take on the job of assessing property values.

“This is another unfunded mandate. We are concerned about the initial costs and the succeeding years,” said Risley, who estimated the county would have to hire 30 full-time assessors but did not explain why he felt so many would be required.

“We are asking you to slow down and talk to us,” said Formica. “We are not willing to see it become law and have to deal with the mess.”

Risley also said 16 of 23 municipalities in the county have gone on record either opposing the idea or asking Mazzeo to provide more information before moving to enact it.

Towns would save money by no longer paying the cost of tax assessing and periodic revaluations, which can cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, said Mazzeo.

He said the program will be much less expensive to start now that all of the county’s towns are at or near 100 percent valuation. That means no new assessments will be required to start it, he said. The only costs would be associated with starting a new county office and staffing it.

Also speaking against the bill was a number of tax assessors in the county, including Diane Hesley, the full-time Somers Point tax assessor, part-time Linwood assessor and the president of the Association of Municipal Tax Assessors of New Jersey. She has said Mazzeo’s plan would cost Atlantic County taxpayers $15.2 million just to start the program, with an estimated $3.5 million more each year thereafter.

Contact: 609-272-7219 Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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