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Howell Residents React to New Tax Bills

Meeting moved because of large turnout

Just as he does for every meeting of the Mayor and Council Township Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Filiatreault gave his report at the beginning of Tuesday night's session. 

Filiatreault reported to nobody's surprise that had gone out on time to residents. Looking at the hundreds of residents who turned out causing the meeting to be moved from to Mayor Robert Walsh said with a laugh, "I think we all know that."

For the next few hours residents came forward to express their feelings on the tax bills many of them received this weekend. For some, especially representing the residents of Equestra that tax bill brought an increase of anywhere between 25 and 35 percent.

While the council was not able to provide any solutions on Tuesday the meeting served as an opportunity for residents to voice their complaints and that got them where they were.

Councilman Juan Malave said it was important to remember that while the township collects all the tax money from residents only a small portion of that stays in the town's coffers. "We only keep 17 cents of every one dollar that you guys pay in your property taxes," he said. 

Malave also said any perception that the taxes were being raised in order to purchase the former Global Building as the new municipal complex is "not true." He added, "Not one cent in this past year's budget went in there to buy, or repair anything from that municipal building," he said. 

Mayor Robert Walsh said before opening the meeting to public comment that he understood why residents were unhappy with their taxes being raised. "My taxes were raised on both my dwellings in Howell Township," he said. They happen to be in developments where the values remained pretty stable and they happen to be in another one where I won a tax appeal on an investment property I bought for my daughters hoping they'd come back and live by me when they're done with college."

Walsh said the taxes went up 13 percent on that second property. "A revaluation is a rebalancing and this was brought on by the numerous appeals, but the last revaluation that was also ordered upon this township in 2005. This town was revalued and reassessed at the height of the market. This was nothing the governing body wanted to do then." 

Over the past few years the mayor said the township has made some difficult decisions including furloughs and some township employees not getting raises over the past few years in addition to a 20 percent reduction in the workforce. "These are tough times and we all know it," he said. "Five or six years ago I would always say we're going to look at these decisions like they were easy. I'm telling you now we're going to look five years from now and think the decisions that are made now were easy."

One Equestra resident who spoke on Tuesday, Madeline Dmochowski said she moved into her home for her "dream home for retirement." She said with money in the stock market which is "not going up," and Social Security which is also "not going up," her taxes, she said "were another story." With the arrival of the tax bill she said her taxes went up 25.8 percent from last year. "If I were to make a product and put it on the market and it sells then the next year I raise it to 25.8 percent it's not going to sell. Nobody's going to want it. I'm going to go out of business."

Dmochowski also got the biggest laugh of the night when talking her response to seeing how much her taxes were being raised. "If I was in fourth grade I'd say that sucks," she said. When Walsh asked what she would say in fifth grade she responded, "You don't want to know I'm from Jersey City." After the laugh she said, "How do you expect someone on a fixed income to continue this?"

Another question that was raised by residents of Equestra is the fact that some services the township provides to other residents are handled privately by that development. "What I'm saying is why in god's name would we have the same rate if we're not getting the same services," she said. 

Also representing residents from Equestra was Yvonne Lorenzo who also raised several concerns for people who turned out to the meeting in red shirts in a show of solidarity. When she asked about how her neighbors were being billed for their share of the increase Walsh said looking a the tax appeals from last year the township's share is a small amount. "The shortfall of 1.4 million totally had to do with people that won tax appeals," he said. "When they won their tax appeals the governing body still has to come up with all that money. We know two-thirds of it goes to the school board. We still have to give the school board $900 thousand even though we did not collect it."

Because of that, Walsh said the money has to come from the residents. "We are not allowed to tell the school board, oh, they won tax appeals you're not getting that $900 thousand," he said. "It's ridiculous that it falls back onto the taxpayers. It's ridiculous. But as a governing body we do not have a choice."

Walsh said that is a reason why residents should also bring their concerns to their state representatives in Trenton. It was a theme that carried throughout the meeting. 

Lorenzo said one of the biggest complaints residents in her development was what she saw as an "inequity" in the raises. "We're hearing people say my taxes went up $800. My taxes went up 7 percent. We're not dealing with that. We're dealing with 25 to 35 percent across board for just the Equestra residents. That's ludicrous."

During Tuesday's council meeting Township Tax Assessor Gregory T. Hutchinson explained why Equestra was affected so much in this tax cycle. "There was kind of a perfect storm for Equestra because most of Equestra came on the tax rolls post-revaluation. So as your homes were being built and put on the tax list you were being put on at true market value," he said.

Hutchinson said the tax bills that were sent out this past weekend were done with the goal of bringing the township in line with current property valuations thanks to the recent reassessment. "Whereas the rest of the entire town other than the people who had filed appeals were on as of 2006 values. This is why you guys now are seeing the increase with the reassessment because you have just been brought back into place with the rest of the town for market value."

Following the meeting Councilman Robert Nicastro said he understood the frustration of the residents who came out to Tuesday's meeting whether they lived in Equestra or anywhere in the town. "I think it was very important that we portray the message and make people understand because it's such a complicated situation the way taxes are done throughout the state of of New Jersey that unfortunately a lot of people don't understand," he said. 

Nicastro said it was important for residents to understand what the township controls in the budget process and what is out of their hands. "We tried to make the people understand what we control, what we're responsible for and that I'm willing to take responsibility for," he said. "We've cut in the budget, we've done things to make things more efficient moving forward. We believe we're going to keep going in that process."

Looking outside the township's borders Nicastro said it is important for residents "to go and let those elected officials know of your dissatisfaction and let them tell you their record," he said. 

Tuesday's meeting was held in the same location as tonight's Board of Education meeting and Nicastro said he believed the board will work with the township to help with future budget issues. "I think we have a very good board of education now. Some of the things they inherited in the past they can't control, but moving forward I am very confident that this board of education is moving forward in the right direction."

He added, "People have to understand, this situation did not happen overnight. It's not going to be fixed overnight."

The councilman said it is a difficult situation for everyone. "At the end of the day, no one, no one is happy with the taxes that we're paying and we're doing everything we can to fix that problem."

That, he said includes, a few steps the council can take. "It's our job to make sure that either expenses come down or we generate more revenue. That's the only thing this governing body can do on the municipal side, and that we are committed to do."

The Howell Board of Education will meet tonight at 7 p.m. at Middle School North. 

Jim July 18, 2012 at 05:47 PM
School Board...School Board.....School Board......don't make the mistake of overlooking that is where 63% of the tax is controlled. My tactics are changing and I will be at the BOE meeting tonight to start learning.....
Dave Deering July 18, 2012 at 08:26 PM
EXACTLY! It has to be taken over, dismantled and put back together again. Only then will you see true tax relief.
John R July 18, 2012 at 10:33 PM
I live in a small house in howell that was worth 205,000 last year, now is worth 116,000. almost $90,000 diffrence and my taxes went UP a few hundred. i have no sidewalks,sewer,water,garbage. what do i pay for? more stores and congestion.... I cant sell my house, I am upside down... just makes me want to walk away. but that isnt fair to the rest of everyone.... i signed the mortgage and i will pay the mortgage. lived here all my life.... hate to see it go to sh*&.
Chief Wahoo July 18, 2012 at 11:36 PM
eventually you will come to understand, hopefully sooner than later, its a financial business decision and no one but you is looking out for your family.......do not walk away from this black hole, but run......its the only way to kill the machine, that is killing all of us it might not make any sense now, but one day it will
Howard West July 18, 2012 at 11:48 PM
Don't let the township off the hook.. that was their strategy... The school budget went down over a 1 million for 2012-2013, however, the township budget increased by 500K for 2012-2013... Last night, they gave no explanation for this increase. The tax situation is a two pronged approach... We must challenge the BOE to find other areas to reduce spending and the town council to be more accountable, the behavior of the council to blame everybody else is unacceptable. the reality is that the county, and schools either maintained their budget levels from 2011-2012 or reduced their budgets from 2011-2012, the township budget increased by over 500K, far exceeding all other entities...
I'm done July 19, 2012 at 12:33 AM
You play by the rules they give you. Appeal your taxes do all the right things . And then get screwed because you won. My taxes went up $2500 to 13800. Why?
Anthony Mazza July 19, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Blaming the schools? What a crock! They are passing the buck. They knew this was coming and the sat on it and gave no one a heads up. That in and of itself is criminal. Why not tell the people the trust? So much for a transparent government. And Mayor Walsh tries to make laughs and poke fun. What is this, Laugh In? If he wants to make jokes, go to Chuckles the Comedy Club. Some of us have to pay the bills around here. This council is a joke. They have no plan and merely passed the buck. They say call someone else. Complain to the state or the school board. I say poppy-cock. The buck stops there for what is like 18% of my bill. At least with the schools we get our kids educated. What do I get for my 18% on the dollar from the township? Nothing. Streets are not paved, the town cannot plow when it snows (Howell is the worst(, they pick up the leaves after the snow has frozen them and I have to pay for my garbage and water separate. What do we get? Police protection? The police here are great so that is not the point but what do we really get for that 18%? NOTHING much. These people have to all be shown the door. And this guy Mr. Gotto for Mayor? Please! I have only one thing to say....GOTTO GOTTA GO!
scapo July 19, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Thanks John for considering what effect your actions have on others...RARE TODAY! Wish others thought your way!
scapo July 19, 2012 at 12:49 AM
you show how partial you are toward the schools...have you seen the payroll? the 100,000 dollar club ..person after person making almost 6 figures a year..i'm sure there is room to "tweak" the budget without adversely affecting education.. this is going on everywhere or should people lose their homes first?
Jim July 19, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Ok- so where was everybody tonight? I know these School Board meetings are painfully boring, but I am learning that this is where the impact needs to be made. And for only a handful to come out gives them the impression that the outcry was not serious, nor passionate, and will just blow over with time. We talk about where the Council failed, this is where we fail. We are just too complacent, and that is what they want. Not me, not anymore.
Jim July 19, 2012 at 02:59 AM
We have established that 83% of the problem comes from the Township (17%) + School Board (66% on my bill), this almost fits the Pareto Principle :) so, for me, this is the limit of my focus, I just can't stretch anymore meetings. The real question is, what do we, I, do. This requires some thought. Just voting the Council out does not solve anything unless there is strong visionary leadership in the wings. I can't say that I personally know the council to lack leadership ability, it's just disheartening when the guys we "voted in" say there is nothing they can do, and, for me, an indication of failed leadership. They need help.
scapo July 19, 2012 at 03:19 AM
Jim, what was discussed at the meeting tonight? The problem is people are too busy working to pay these ridiculous taxes to have the time to attend meetings every night for one thing or another. In november we need to vote the right person on the board so we don't have to watch them every minute!!
Jim July 19, 2012 at 03:34 AM
scapo- I am sure Adam will post a story, as will the Asbury park press. There were some awards for students, a break, then open forum. At that time Howard and myself addressed the board with comments along the same being found here, alot of pressure on driving and maintaining costs lower. Howard was very good ( I guess practice makes perfect Howard, and lots of research). He did a good job, and obvious he was researching since the Town Council meeting...how many weeks ago...oh, sorry, last night....you tend to learn alot when something gets under your skin. Then, they went into normal business, passing this, tabling that.....voted for 4 more teacher positions, and then debated whether to send 11 or 12 people to the Taj Mahal for a workshop for a couple of days, expenses paid. I just couldn't pass up the opportunity and took the mike to make the point that these are the types of expenditures that have to come under control. Of course, the explanation back was that it was required and valuable training.....in my company, we're lucky to get more than one to a workshop at a time. Then they completed some business (again, I'm learning, so some was lost on me......but I kept hearing "cha ching"). Then they broke into Executive and half the crowd went home. I hope they didn't sneak through the rest of the measures after we left.
Jim July 19, 2012 at 03:37 AM
we're not the only ones..... http://montclair.patch.com/articles/tax-bills-spark-concern
Anthony Mazza July 19, 2012 at 12:00 PM
The council does NOT have that vision or leadership. It is easier to kick the can down the road and blame the guy. Blame the schools. Blame Trenton Blame everyone.They need to install some mirrors at town hall is all I have to say. Taxes are up and rather than digging in and trying to fix the issue they play it off, the mayor cracks jokes like he is Jackie Mason and the rest sit there like they have amnesia and forgot how they they got there. Its all a bunch of babble. We need a fresh start, blood, new management. A fresh start. We have a mayor's election coming up and Gotto is running. I say that is the place to start with the take back Howell plan. GOTTO GOTTA GO! Then throw the rest out too. Tired of high taxes and higher excuses!
Anthony Mazza July 19, 2012 at 12:02 PM
Meant to say "new blood"! all new people up there on the dais at town hall.
Jim July 19, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Are you saying Gotto has that vision and leadership? Or implying he has to go too? We do have to remember that it looks easier from this side of the dais. we need someone up to the task, to know the process and be wiling to take up the charge when we are not looking...I got a job, just lucky to be on vacation and able to get involved as this hits. Come next week, I'm back to the grind...and trying to figure how to keep involved. So, with no other options, I think we have to help the council be better. But it is complicated, and harder than just telling them to cut costs. I think they want to do the right thing, we just need more.
Its NJEA, the HTEA and the Town. Its not the school BOARD. The new Board is trying to scale back the outrageous benefit packages. If you can believe this there are some former school board members seeking the resignation of the current board members because the current board wants the HTEA to contribute a similar amount to health ins as private industry. The HTEA said no and is holding up the settlement. They want 5 percent raises per year for the next 3 years no deductible or co pay to health ins and no increase to their health ins contribution. Are they OUT OF THEIR MINDS. The School board is holding their ground and I hope they continue to do so. The town council needs to tell unions enough is enough. Let them go on strike who cares. This has got to stop we have admin in school system making over 150k and we have an admin in every area. School sect making 68,000 per year with full benefits and pensions. Step ups in salary in yr 13 of 30000. This has got to stop. Face down the unions on all municiple levels until there pensions and benefits are on par with private industry. If this does not get done then your taxes will continue to skyrock or municiplities will go bankruptcy and they all union contracts are void. Maybe that is the solution....... Former board members that are calling for resignations of current board are out of their mind and tools for the union. This is what you get Howell.
Not being ripped off? Take a look at admin salaries(this does not include benefits and pension contributions Golden 188,246 Sanasac 112,131 (also gets paid by town as director of OEM and get a vehicle and gas paid by the taxpayer0 Calender 153,380 Isola 135,878 Moore 122,151 Spill 120,951 Thompson 113,745 Sandler 139,258 This is only a small sample. We have Art and computer teachers making 90,000 plus per year in salary. Remember this does not include benefits. We have sect making 68,000 per year to work in Howell with full benefits. Sect that work in private industry in Manhattan dont make that much. We have municiple workers all over the place in the 100k club in salary. All this while those in private industry pay for the union bloated benefits while they pay for their own as well. I hope the whole system crashes. It looks like this will be the only way they get the message........
Not being ripped off? Now for the town. This list does not even include all the high earners and does not include pension contributions and benefits Filiatreault 120,780 Schlegel 141,192 Gravatt 111,831 Hotmar 96,712 Wollman 85,505 Hutchinson 80,844 Davison 91,872 Nunziato 116,575 Bushkin 75,548 Too many more to list not enough time but do your own reseach to see how you are being ripped off by high salaries and double dippers.
Anthony Mazza July 19, 2012 at 09:04 PM
I am saying that this council has shown no guts and no leadership and sits there and says its the other guys fault. And in my opinion and many I talk to about it all I can say is "Gotto Gotta Go" for sure. Why elevate him to Mayor? He has not shown us he can do the current job and now he wants a promotion? Really? Yes its hard but they signed up for it. The president may get thrown out of office because he has not fixed the economy. Maybe it is not his fault but he has not been able to fix it so the president may be out. That is the way of the world. The same applies here. We need new blood and incumbents need to be shown the door. Gotto, Nicastra, Smith and Walsh. Enough. Time for new blood. They have not gotten it done.
Jim July 19, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Golden is making $188K......holy cow! I am not surprised, but seeing those salaries listed makes me even more pissed. But, what can be done? seriously, what can be done? Not just voting anymore, there needs to be real action.....but what?
Jim July 19, 2012 at 11:06 PM
And, what new blood? He or she would have a high hurdle to clear in my mind.
scapo July 20, 2012 at 02:59 AM
Jim, it is obvious they will not stop spending and attending the meetings is a complete waste of time as they give the residents paying the bills no respect!! How has this system become so out of control that those paying the bills are viewed in a contempt full fashion... seems to me we need legal minds and leaders to regain control of these idiots..the residents of this township can be rallied with the right leadership..
seventeen July 21, 2012 at 01:40 AM
For all the "New-Comer's" to Howell (Equestra, et al)... it might be in your best interest to learn a little History of the twp's 'doings' of the past. It might 'behoove' you to visit and search at the old Howell Forums (by the ppl, for the ppl) - 'howellnj.com' site. There's a lot to learn there, about this twp.
timothy newman July 22, 2012 at 06:15 PM
tim newman here ; born&raised here i;ve seen it all ,seen mayor& council;s come& go.when they run for office it;s the same bullshit ;they;re gonna save howell. the town had a record # of appeals so they had to pay out! so they raised every ratable to make up the loss. walsh says they have to pay the school no matter the short fall! sound;s illegal to me .they are advised by lawyers on how far they can rob us legally; i called the gov. attorney gen. local legislators & demanded & investigation ! my asessment went down 20.000& taxes went up 1;463dollars! it's legalised crime! were gonna end up like scranton .bankrupt. maybe it;s time the citizen;s organize &hire the best specialist n.y. lawyer & sue ! the mayor said 60% got reduction;s so the rest of us pick up the slack? call bob singer district 30 rep. whose up for reelection at732 901 0702& demand a criminal investigation also local legislators sean cain 732974 0400 dave rible 732974 1719 charles crescenz att.gen investigator 609 984 5655 & bombard these guy's for action. the f.b.i. just raided the trenton mayor. the corruption is rampent! didn;t the country fight a war 200 yr;s ago over the same thing? I too have no services. finally call the gov. & demand & investigation! he was a prosecutor.taxes are his war cry?TALKS CHEAP. instead of strokin romney& takin 160 cronies to isreal; he should be fighting this problem, i don;t want a free ride im disabled & retired. just give me a fair bill to pay!! tim 732 938 3839
timothy newman July 22, 2012 at 06:27 PM
don't forget that top dollar police dept! your paying all ther benefit;s . yet they & the teachers cry when they gotta kick in alitlle! try payin 100% like the rest of us! time to stop paying. let the town go broke & start from scrstch
Jim July 24, 2012 at 08:00 AM
So, based on this and some other blog posts here on Howell Patch, I decided it was necessary to create a website with the purpose of making tax payer waste visible and open it to the the public to submit where they see our tax dollars being wasted. The site just went up Sunday night and already had 4,000 hits, including about 40 from the US Govt....most of the others were from this area. I am new to web design so I need some feedback on what would make it more functional and useful. The idea is to capture this waste and then use to challenge the Town Council and School Board with where they need to cut waste and improve the efficiency of our tax dollars. So, please go to www.TaxPayerWaste.com and contribute your ideas on where our tax dollars are being wasted and how to improve effective and efficient use of our money. But, really looking for some feedback on how to improve and for anyone who wants to join in developing and promoting the blog and gathering as a group when approaching various councils/boards. We're going to see Deputy Mayor Gotto this Wednesday for his office hours and a phone call with Gov Christie's office as well.

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