Jordan Interviews Resident Planning Geek on Property Taxes


Jordan posted questions in March of this year about Property Taxes in Maplewood and the answers to his questions are below. 

Jordon: I was born and raised in Maplewood and although I am not currently living there I visit my parents often and try to keep up with town happenings. Your blog has been a great resource to that end and I hope it can shed light on a topic I have been thinking about lately.

During a recent visit home to Maplewood, I was driving down Baker St and took a good look at the golf course and started thinking about how big it is. When I got home I did a little tax search and saw that my parents .1377 (the lot is 50 ft by 120 ft) acres has an assessed value of 291,300 and gets taxed 13,053.15 while the golf course has 88.67 acres of land, has an assessed value of 8,817,100 and gets taxed 395094.25.

  • Is this the best use of the town’s land?
  • Who benefits from the land being used in this way?
  • Are there better ways to use it?
  • I am particularly interested in your addressing the issue of tax equity.
  • Is this a case of the entire township subsidizing the Maplewood Country Club, which is only accessible to a small group of wealthy people who may not even reside in the community?

Jordon: Why is the town using this vital resource in this way? Is this fair?

W. S. Hughes: If the township allowed the applicant to build on this plot of land, deciding that a Country Club on this location is a permitted use (allowed under the zoning code) then the applicant has permission under the law to use the land for the approved purpose.

I find it difficult to answer the second part of your question, but I’ll try.  Determining fairness in this manner, well, it can be subjective.  What is fair to the [land] owner? What is fair to tax payers?

What is fair to the owner?  The owner of the Country Club has the right, under full compliance with the law, to use the land he/she purchased.  I understand that the Country Club pays less in taxes on the land because they have limited use of the 88.67 acres of land they own.  A portion of the land they own is a flood plain zone.  It has been converted into a golf course.

What is fair to tax payers? Concern over the fairness of the tax burden carried by residents vs the tax burden carried by local businesses isn’t exclusive to Maplewood. In our sister community, S. Orange NJ, residents question whether Seton Hall University is contributing enough financially to the Village community.

Jordan:  Is this the best use of the town’s land?

W. S. Hughes: In June I asked a beloved teacher (Mr. Campbell at CHS) who is a zoning lawyer for advice on how best to answer this part of your question.  He suggested that I become familiar with the work of appraisers because an appraiser is the only professional best able to answer this question accurately.

In the appraisal process ‘Highest and best use’ is a term used to determine the value of property.  ‘Highest and best use’ can be defined, according to a Highest & Best Use Example document from the State of Minnesota, as a “legal use to which a property can logically be put or adapted, for which there is a current market, and which may reasonably be expected to produce the greatest net return to land over a given period of time, or to yield to land it’s highest present value.”

If the land was undeveloped, would residents get the best use from this land?  Probably not.  There would be no taxable use on the land.  Currently, a multiplier effect exists throughout our local community because of the Country Club.  It employs vendors and suppliers, residents and people living in surrounding communities.  In addition, the business brings its members into our township, and these members may directly benefit local businesses with their traffic, purchasing goods and other services locally.  The constant traffic of vendors, Country Club members, and workers benefits the township by creating a needed customer base.

Jordan: Who benefits from the land being used in this way?

W. S. Hughes We all are benefit indirectly.  Currently the land is in use, the property owner is paying taxes (as best I know), and indirectly local businesses are benefiting.

Jordan: Are there better ways to use it?

W. S. Hughes: You and I think so.  You would favor the idea of a mixture of community gardening and park land.  There could also be some re-forestation.  Your thoughts were that there might be grant money available from the federal government for such projects to make up for the lost tax revenue.

I second the idea of agriculture. This is a viable idea.  I am inspired by the work of Lorraine Gibbons, a local resident and urban farmer in Newark, NJ.  Someone in urban farming, for example, would have expertise in determining the amount of food that could be produced on the land the country club sits. We could grow food locally in our township and supply food to our district wide cafeterias.  Jobs would be produced, and we could create forward thinking initiatives like a communal/community dining space/area.

Jordan: I am particularly interested in your addressing the issue of tax equity.  Is this a case of the entire township subsidizing the Maplewood Country Club, which is only accessible to a small group of wealthy people who may not even reside in the community?

W. S. Hughes: The Country Club has been in Maplewood for a very long time, and it could be that the business is grandfathered in somewhere to get some type of incentive on their property from our present local government. That doesn’t mean it has to be this way.  Local (and state) governments give businesses incentives for them to remain within town boundaries as a means of economic development, and they sometimes give away much more than some would argue is necessary.  A clarification from our local government is necessary to determine if that circumstance is indeed the current situation.

If tax equity is your concern, my thoughts are that property taxes could be redistributed so that the Country Club would pay more.  Either that, or the Country Club could offer to pay the township a certain amount every year in addition to it’s current taxes to offset concerns by residents.

Consider, however, that an independent tax assessor was hired for the property tax redistribution that happened about a decade ago and one will be hired for the 2010 re-assessment.  The 2000 appraisal regarding how much in taxes the Country Club pays is legal and uncontested, and the future appraisal will be legal as well.

I research every topic I post on.  “I’m going to turn to experts for answers,” I said in June, and soon after I published an informative post on property taxes: Read my interview with Mayor Vic DeLuca on the 2010 Property Tax Re-assessment

© 2010 W. S. Hughes l Updated 12.22.11

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