RED BANK: MENNA WANTS OUT OF REVAL

menna 010114Mayor Pasquale Menna called the Press findings “disturbing” and “somewhat surreal.” (File photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD
HOT-TOPIC_02

The Red Bank council took steps to put the borough’s switch to a new property assessment method on hold Wednesday night, two days after an Asbury Park Press investigation found questionable dealings in the Monmouth County program.

Mayor Pasquale Menna told a small audience at borough hall that the Press article raised “troubling” questions about “unholy alliances” at the county level in the creation of the Assessment Demonstration Program.

At the same time, the program “removes a lot of protections” for taxpayers who want to challenge their assessments, Menna said.

“It’s very disturbing,” Menna said at a council hearing, adding later in an interview with redbankgreen that the tangle of relationships uncovered by the Press was “somewhat surreal.”

The council, with interim Councilwoman Sharon Lee absent, agreed to a resolution that would ask the state Attorney General to allow Red Bank to withdraw from the program, pending a determination by the state’s top law enforcer that the creation of the ADP was “not tainted,” in Menna’s words.

It also echoes Freeholder and former borough council member John Curley’s call for an investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor of the program’s creation, Menna said.

The resolution also calls on state legislators to suspend the program, which was enacted under state law as a pilot program.

In a lengthy article published Monday as part of a series on property taxes, the Press reported that the ADP “has become a multimillion-dollar money machine for some private companies, including one run by a now-former county tax commissioner who helped create the program.”

From the article:

These companies won contracts for the new system, called the Assessment Demonstration Program, or ADP, through a complex web of personal and business relationships, and clauses in bid requirements that stymied competition.

For taxpayers, it has become effectively a double assault on their wallets: they not only have to endure new assessments that lead to unexpected, higher property tax bills, they are now paying millions of dollars to implement the program across 48 towns of the county’s 53 municipalities.

Under the ADP, 20 percent of a town’s property is reassessed each year, rather than the entirety of a town every 10 years. The program is scheduled to go into effect in Red Bank January 1. A  withdrawal would leave the current system in place, Menna told redbankgreen.

Menna said the council’s action had no bearing on a just-concluded revaluation, for which borough property owners have received notices of new assessments in the mail in recent days. Those valuations are fixed, Menna said, though he blasted Realty Appraisal Company, which conducted the reval, for not giving property owners enough time to  adequately prepare to question their assessments.

The notices, dated October 6, tell property owners they can visit the company’s website to schedule an appointment, or call the company before 5 p.m. on October 14.

“That is an unacceptably small amount of time for people to react,” Menna said.

A visit to the company’s website early Thursday morning appeared to show appointments available on four dates through next Tuesday, including all day Saturday. None were available after 5:10 p.m.

Menna said the scheduling was unfair to people with jobs and children. “God forbid they should have to come in at 7 p.m. to listen to people,” Menna said of Realty Appraisal.

Administrator Stanley Sickles said that by state law, the results of the revaluation have to be filed with the county clerk by November 1.