Avon Plans Litigation If Program Not Halted

 

coaster-news-200By PETE WALTON

Officials in Avon are asking the state to order the suspension of a controversial property tax assessment program and if the state fails to do so, will instruct Borough Attorney Barry A. Cooke to begin litigation.

“The taxpayers of the borough are victims of this program which has produced [an] unsubstantiated increase in taxes and created uncertainty as to future tax liabilities,” Avon’s Board of Commissioners said in a letter to Michael J. Bryan, director of the state Division of Taxation.

If the Monmouth County Board of Taxation fails to suspend the Assessment Demonstration Program, Cooke will begin litigation against the tax board, asking that Avon be excluded from participating in the pilot program.

In an Oct. 16 letter, the borough formally requested James Stuart, president of the county tax board, to suspend the program pending completion of any investigations undertaken at the county, state or federal level.

Borough Administrator Timothy M. Gallagher said Stuart had not responded to the letter as of the Oct. 26 Board of Commissioners meeting.

Neighboring Bradley Beach has also asked the tax board to suspend the program.

In Avon Gallagher said at the meeting that according to published reports, Stuart does not believe the tax board has the authority to suspend the program since it was created by state law. The county tax board voted in 2013 to make Monmouth the first — and so far, the only — county to participate in the pilot program.

Monmouth County Freeholder John Curley has called for an investigation into allegedly improper relationships between a former member of the county tax board and companies hired under the program. The county prosecutor’s office will not confirm or deny that an investigation is underway.

Curley and the rest of the Board of Chosen Freeholders have asked the tax board to suspend the program, as have officials in Marlboro, Wall, Red Bank and Matawan.

Gallagher said he told Realty Data Systems of Tinton Falls to “cease and desist” its work in Avon until the issues raised about the pilot program have been “squared away.”

He called the present system “inequitable” and said that it causes 95 percent of properties in the borough to be reevaluated each year even though only 20 percent of properties are put on an annual list for inspection.

However, Michael J. Panter of Realty Data Systems told The Coaster that his firm’s efforts have saved Avon taxpayers money.

“The average Avon tax change for all properties was a $1 decrease, while the statewide average in 2014 was a $177 increase,” said Panter, who served in the state Assembly as a Democrat from 2004 to 2008. “So a suspension of the ADP would result in a tax increase nearly across the board compared to where Avon stands under the program.”

Avon is in the second year of a five-year contract with Realty Data Systems, the low bidder among three companies who applied to do the work under the pilot program instituted by the county tax board. According to Gallagher, none of the individuals who signed the contract with Avon on behalf of RDS are among those mentioned in connection with any possible investigations.

Gallagher said a complete property reassessment of the borough would cost more than $80,000. Realty Data Systems is scheduled to be paid a total of $23,000 over the five years of the contract.

Realty Data Systems is among the private companies which have been awarded a total of more than $8 million in contracts under the Assessment Demonstration Program. (The company was incorrectly identified in a previous report.)

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