WEST WINDSOR – While many New Jersey residents struggle to pick up the pieces following the destruction caused by Superstorm Sandy, local officials are scrambling for answers to many of the critical questions looming in the wake of the devastation.
Municipal officials gathered under one roof Wednesday to discuss what the unprecedented storm means for state and local officials. The seminar, which was hosted by the New Jersey League of Municipalities, focused largely in part on two serious concerns of local officials post-Sandy – tax assessment and municipal budgeting.
“I wish there was a go-to resource that has all the answers of what to do when something like this occurs, [but] there’s not,” said Scott Holzhauer, tax assessor for Oakland Borough and the president of the Association of Municipal Assessors of New Jersey.
“It’s unprecedented and there are a lot of moving parts,” he said, telling the audience at Mercer County Community College here that while there has been a huge amount of collaboration among state officials on how to manage the recovery, much of what officials will be doing moving forward will be managed “on the fly.”
The storm has estimated to cost the state approximately $30 billion in damage, representing $3,500 for each person in the state, according to officials.
This morning, the Christie administration issued an updated damage estimate of $36.8 billion.
Included in the billions of dollars worth of damage is the destruction of peoples’ homes, which has tax assessors scrambling to reassess the amount homeowners should be taxed on their properties.
And while assessors are not exactly sure yet of how Sandy will affect each homeowner in the state, one thing is clear: As many homeowners have their taxes reassessed, taxes on other homeowners who may have not sustained serious damage from the storm can be expected to rise in some counties.
“The fact in front of us is we have damage, we have to assess it,” said Matt Clark, administrator of the Monmouth County Board of Taxation.
“Our Achilles heel is the third quarter,” he said, speaking of 2013. “Taxpayers are going to see the pain.”
Holzhauer echoed Clark’s comments, explaining the shift from the storm will come months down the line when many residents who didn’t sustain property damage will ultimately be affected by the storm.
“You think you’re good until July rolls around next year,” Holzhauer said. “And now you find out that you’re picking up the tax for everyone else.”
During the seminar, state officials discussed with local leaders what is being done by assessors to survey damage from the storm.
Patricia Wright, deputy director of compliance and enforcement with the New Jersey Division of Taxation, explained officials developed a blueprint form for tax assessors to use while they’re assessing damage.
The job that lays ahead for county assessors is unprecedented, she said, adding that a January deadline is looming for assessors to enter homeowners’ properties and assess damage.
“It’s an incredibly short period of time,” she said.
The seminar is the first of a series of post-Sandy lectures the league plans to host.