Dispatches from the League: Dressel worried about tax appeals and hard times

ATLANTIC CITY – At the annual gathering of government officials here, N.J. State League of Municipalities Executive Director Bill Dressel told State Street Wire he’s concerned about the long-term effects of the economic downturn like tax appeals.

Toeing the faux sea-and-sand carpet of the Atlantic City Convention Center, Dressel worked the second-floor mezzanine, ground zero for city planners, construction code officials, ribbon-wearing small town mayors, and politicians of all ilks.

“The economy has really wreaked havoc on municipal governments,” Dressel said today. “Real estate plummeted by and large because of decisions made on Wall Street.”

The dominoes fell and struggling homeowners turned to tax appeals as a means of finding savings. This year, Dressel said, was the year of the successful tax appeal. The problem for cities, he said, is that while they only collect 10 percent to 15 percent of the property taxes, they are responsible for 100 percent of the appeal restitution. Towns pay for the extensive legal costs of defending the appeals, too.

“This attacks the base (of municipal revenue streams),” he said. Regarding property taxes, he said: “New Jersey only has one real revenue source.”

Many of the appeals stem from overdue property assessment revaluations, which are very costly and time-consuming for towns, and which can also result in lengthy legal appeals.

To give municipalities some guidance there, Dressel said there’s a session at this League convention on Thursday morning at 9: “League Joint Tandem Session with the Association of Municipal Assessors of New Jersey and the New Jersey Institute of Municipal Attorneys: Tax Appeals – Trials and Tribulations.”

Among the other highlights, he said, are Wednesday “toolkit” sessions, one of which is titled, “Who moved the toolkit?” The 2 p.m. session includes legislators and is moderated by Jim McQueeney.

The “toolkit’’ refers to Gov. Chris Christie’s package of bills – many of which languished in the Legislature this year – that would have made it a little easier for towns to cope with the state-imposed 2 percent property tax cap.

Wednesday morning, one session deals with pension and health care benefit reforms, while another with mayors and legislators seeks to answer the toolkit question, “Did they really deliver?,” Dressel said.

Wednesday afternoon, state officials Tracy McDaniel and Karen Franzini will discuss economic development and strategies for retaining commercial and industrial employers.

On this front, Dressel credits Christie’s administration, above all Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, for aggressively retaining and recruiting employers. “They’ve delivered,” he said.

Dispatches from the League: Dressel worried about tax appeals and hard times