Surf City Reassessment Kicking Into High Gear

Aug 29, 2018

Beginning next month, the Ship Bottom borough tax assessor will offer Saturday appointments in earnest to help facilitate a state- and county-mandated reassessment program, he told residents attending the final summer meeting of the Surf City Taxpayer’s Association last weekend. Walter Higgins, who is also the tax assessor for Ship Bottom, said the state mandates 50 percent of the homes must be inspected for a reassessment to be considered complete.

“I think we’re going to make that goal,” he said. “If not, we’ll put it off until next year.”

Higgins said he and his team are about two-thirds of the way done in the residential district. Homes located between Central and Barnegat avenues are expected to be completed this week. Inspections on homes between the Boulevard and the beaches, as well as Barnegat Avenue and the bay, have just begun, he added. He is personally handling all of the businesses and has completed everything to the east of the Boulevard.

Under the current mandate, the reassessments will be applied to the 2019 tax year.  He defined a reassessment as a “uniform equitable assessment that redistributes the pie.”

Higgins told the near-capacity crowd at the Surf City Firehouse they can expect to see a third of the properties increase in value, a third decrease in value and a third remain the same. There are certain outside factors that could impact a reassessment, he added, including proximity to the ocean or beach, or the business district.

“Swimming pools add a lot of value to a home," he said.

While the number of total rooms in a home doesn’t impact the assessed value, the number of bathrooms and the number of fixtures (sinks, toilets, shower, tub) do, according to Higgins. In the older Cape Cods and ranch-style homes, he almost always knows what to expect when he goes through a home. It’s more difficult to predict newer homes or homes that were renovated, either before or after Superstorm Sandy. That’s why it’s important to get into homes, he said.

Raising a home to meet certain flood insurance criteria doesn’t guarantee a higher assessed value of a home, Higgins said. However, raising a home and gaining a two-car garage, a new roof, new windows and siding can increase the value of a home, he explained.

Higgins, a Ship Bottom resident who went through a reassessment there in 2017, said Surf City’s last assessment was in 2004. All of the data used to determine land value, he said, is from then.

“It’s why we’re updating,” he said, noting a reassessment is considered revenue neutral, meaning the borough won’t increase its budget to account for the larger ratable base.

Homeowners can expect a letter in early November alerting them to an informal meeting if they have questions or concerns about the reassessment of their home or property, Higgins said.

“We will look at things,” he said. “We could make changes. You can always appeal with the county.”

New property values are based on the estimated market value as of Oct. 1, according to Higgins. That is the statutory date required by law, he said. Property owners will be notified by mail of their proposed new assessed values.

Before ending his presentation, Higgins showed the audience the type of photo identification card all field inspectors carry. Their names will be registered with the police department and the borough.

The reassessment is expected to cost the borough more than $100,000, including a two-year $14,000 salary hike for Higgins, borough officials said earlier this month.

“We were told this has to be done,” Mayor Francis Hodgson said. “We have no choice.”

— Gina G. Scala

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