Avon Wants to Extract Itself from Assessment Firm

 

coaster-news-200By PETE WALTON

Avon officials will try to get out of a contract with a property assessment firm until allegations of possible impropriety can be investigated.

Monmouth County Freeholder John Curley has asked county prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni to look into allegedly improper relationships between a former member of the county tax board and companies hired under a pilot program intended to make property tax assessments more equitable.

Avon is in the second year of a five-year contract with Realty Appraisal Co. of West New York, N.J. Realty Appraisal is among the private companies which have been awarded a total of more than $8 million in contracts as a result of the pilot project.

“If we can get out of it, we’re out of it,” said Borough Administrator Timothy M. Gallagher.

He added that if the town can not extract itself from the contract completely, he would ask for a “hiatus” on the implementation of new assessments recommended by the firm.

Mayor Robert Mahon said it was “alarming” to learn of the allegations concerning the company and several affiliates, as well as present and former county tax officials.

Curley has asked James Stuart, president of the Monmouth County Board of Taxation, to suspend the Assessment Demonstration Program, which was established in 2013 as a way to minimize imbalances in property tax assessments.

Though the law setting up the pilot program permits up to four counties to take part, only Monmouth County is doing so. The decision to implement the pilot program was made by the Board of Taxation, which is not under the jurisdiction of the Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Gallagher, the Avon administrator, said that Stuart is “trying to put it on the towns” by claiming that municipalities are responsible for overseeing the vendors they hire to do the assessments.

“It was the county tax board who licensed them,” Gallagher said. “(County Tax Administrator) Matt Clark helped to write the law.”

The section of the county web site maintained by Clark’s department describes the pilot program as a “cost-saving project” which would “ensure that everyone is paying their fair share of taxes (meaning not less and not more than they should) by annually revising every assessment up or down to 100 percent of current market value.”

Increasing the frequency of property data collection and verification means that “taxpayers aren’t unfairly left paying less or more than they should be for a decade or more,” according to the tax board.

As a matter of policy, the county prosecutor’s office does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations.

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