Should Clara Maass pay property taxes?


The Township of Belleville has retained a high-powered law firm to challenge the tax-exempt status of the nonprofit Clara Maass Medical Center.

The Belleville Township Council voted Sept. 27 to hire the Warren law firm of DiFrancesco, Bateman, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum.

They’ll be paid at the rate of $200 per hour, plus costs and expenses, with an overall cap of $40,000.

Attorney Martin Allen, a member of the firm, represented the town of Morristown in the precedent-setting case that led to a court ruling compelling the nonprofit Morristown Medical Center to pay real estate taxes on much of its operation and it’s expected that Allen will handle the Clara Maass case for Belleville.

Currently, there are similar lawsuits pending in about 35 other municipalities around the state.

Meanwhile, Belleville is the process of complying with an order by the Essex County Tax Board to conduct a revaluation of assessments on all of it taxable properties and complete it for the 2018 tax year.

Kevin Esposito, township assessor, said that as the first step in that process, the township has sent its tax maps to the state Division of Taxation in Trenton “and they gave us new marching orders,” meaning that revisions must be made to conform to state formats.

For instance, Esposito said, “the locations of the 1,350 condominiums in Belleville need to be pinpointed.”

While those revisions are being done, Esposito said, Maser Consulting, the township’s consulting engineering firm based in Red Bank, has circulated a “Request for Proposal” (RFP) from appraisal firms, one of whom will be selected to visit the “just under 10,000” taxable properties in Belleville to determine their assessed values.

The township is mandated to have those new assessments “on the books for calendar year 2018,” said Esposito, “but our ultimate goal is have those inspections done by spring or summer of 2017.”

Belleville’s last revaluation was done for 2007 but now, Esposito said, “Essex County is looking to have revals done every 10 years.”

Other municipalities in Essex that have been ordered to conduct revals include Caldwell, Montclair, South Orange/Maplewood jointly and Essex Fells, he said.

Esposito estimated that the cost for the reval work could reach between $800,000 and $1 million.

Interestingly, Esposito said, the township has not been overwhelmed with tax appeals this year. “Our volume has been modest,” he said, “with just 130 appeals before the county tax board.”

And that, he noted, may be a reflection of the fact that the township’s ratio of assessed-to-true value stands at 92.6% — well more than what is deemed to be a state-accepted ratio of 85%.

In other Observer communities, Harrison and East Newark in Hudson County are also in compliance mode, with East Newark slated to finish by November 2017 and Harrison by November 2018.

Harrison has retained Realty Appraisals of West New York to inspect its 2,500 taxable properties at a price of $185,000 while East Newark has engaged Civil Solutions of Hammonton at $17,000 to update its tax maps and Appraisal Systems of Morristown for $30,000 to inspect its estimated 1,000 properties.

Harrison, which did its last reval in 1988, is listed as having a ratio of about 40% while East Newark, last revalued in 1986, has a 33.6% ratio.


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