file photo by Boyd Loving
JOHN REITMEYER | MARCH 31, 2017
An investigation originally undertaken by NJ Spotlight pays off as new property tax data will be posted on state’s governmental services website
What is going on: High property taxes have long been a top complaint of New Jersey homeowners, and a new law enacted by Gov. Chris Christie earlier this month following a compromise with lawmakers aims to help residents gain a better understanding of how their bills come together — and how state property-tax relief programs may help to offset them.
Thanks to the compromise, information about the state’s most popular property-tax relief program, as well as others, will be added to the comparative property-tax figures that are published each year on the website of the state Division of Local Government Services.
How we got here: The origins of the bill that was signed into law by Christie following an initial conditional veto go back to 2014, when lawmakers grew upset that Christie’s administration decided to remove a column from the DLGS website that depicted “average net-property taxes” being paid by homeowners in every town in New Jersey. The change was made as Christie, a second-term Republican, was preparing to run for president, and as he faced criticism for not doing enough to combat the property-tax burden, especially for low-income homeowners and seniors and the disabled.
Lawmakers took action after NJ Spotlight first reported on the change. Earlier reporting also tracked increases in average net-property taxes that occurred during Christie’s tenure.
The issue with average net property taxes: The state for years had calculated average net-property taxes by subtracting the average property-tax rebate provided through the state’s popular Homestead benefit program from the average property-tax bill that was paid on an annual basis by homeowners in every town. The information was released for each year on the DLGS website along with reams of other data, including detailed tax rates and property valuations broken down by county and town.
But Christie’s administration argued that the average net-property tax category was based on faulty math, since not every homeowner in every community qualifies for the Homestead benefit, which was converted from a rebate into a direct credit on property taxes shortly after Christie took office in 2010. The net property-tax bill was also determined using the average property-tax bill for all homeowners in a given town, and not using an “apples-to-apples” comparison of just the average property taxes paid by recipients of the Homestead program.