Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Friday, June 4, 2010

Property taxes: A mansion vs. mini injustice?

The mansion pays less than the cottage.

Plainfielders, like other New Jerseyans, love to hate their property taxes, among the highest in the nation.

But nothing sets a taxpayer's teeth on edge more than the perception that he or she is being taxed unfairly in relation to other taxpayers in their community, or even in their neighborhood.

Recently, my attention was called to one such disparity.

Here are the facts.

Modest cottage pays more taxes than mansion.

Property Number One
This snug two-story frame cottage was built in 2002 on a postage-stamp sized lot (less than a quarter acre) for which special approvals were needed. A modest 2,176 square feet, it is nestled among the 1920s-era houses on its little cul-de-sac, its soft blue clapboarding the only feature that sets it apart from its neighbors.
  • Block 630 Lot 19
  • Lot size: 50x128 irregular (< .25 acre)
  • Total Assessed Valuation: 210,000 (Land: 43,700; Improvements: 166,300)
  • Taxes: $13,038

The Mansion pays less than the cottage.

Property Number Two

This mansion, built in 1902, is one of the grandest (at an estimated 7,166 square feet) in Plainfield, occupying a prominent corner lot and is a keystone property of its historic district. Once home to Plainfield's wealthy Mellick family, in later years it was owned and operated by the Monday Afternoon Club. A low point in its recent history, some say, was its appearance in the 1990 horror flick Basket Case 2 (see more here).
  • Block 638 Lot 9
  • Lot size: 175x404 irregular (1.76 acres)
  • Total Assessed Valuation: 198,200 (Land: 127,000; Improvements: 71,200)
  • Taxes: $12,306
So, the cottage pays $732 more in property taxes than the mansion. The only way such a gross disparity in taxes will be addressed is in a total revaluation of the properties on the tax rolls.

Whether the mansion ended up paying more, the cottage paying less, or some middle ground, only a total revaluation would even begin to address this and other property tax inequalities throughout Plainfield.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

Hope the people in the first and fourth wards agree. They haven't had their properties reassessed either, and chances are their improvements have not been recorded. Maybe by having those wards pay more, all of our taxes can come under more control.

Also, New Jersey property taxes are the highest in the nation. We top the list.

Anonymous said...

Nice politically motivated use of one candidate's property taxes, over which he has virtually no control, to illustrate what? That reassessment to some semblance of market valuation is long overdue?

OK, thanks for telling us what we already know. But beware of what you agitate for. When the larger houses in the better neighborhoods get their taxes doubled the real estate market will come to a dead standstill: properties will be sold for a song, foreclosures and abandonments will rise, legal or illegal multiple families will spread. In short, a second wave of middle-class flight will start. And what will be the result? Less property tax revenues but more needed services.

Congratulations! You've managed to think from Friday to next Tuesday, but not one moment beyond.

Anonymous said...

Hello Dan,

Your example clearly indicates why some members of the city council and the Assemblyman are not concerned with the level of tax increases we suffer each year due to the governmental inefficiencies that they are responsible for overseeing. They are not concerned because their assessed valuation as a percentage of actual property values are below 30% while the rest of us especially those who live in the second and third have assessed valuations that are above 50% of value and in the fourth ward they are closer to 70% of value. We are essentially subsidizing these individuals who simply do not care about our economic well being even Plainfielders lose their homes due to higher taxation. NJ Law requires that property should be valued at 100% of market value for tax purposes. It must be nice to afford a mansion lifestyle that is subsidized by the Plainfield taxpayers while you are on the city council, receive free platinum quality healthcare that cost you the city councilmember no outlay of funds, receive a pension and a salary and of course pay a grossly reduced rate of property taxes. Wow! what a great set-up. It is easy to understand why the mansion dweller does not concern himself with fiscal responsibility when it becomes a difficult choice between choosing what is good for the mansion dweller vs. what is good for the property taxpayer.

Anonymous said...

So everyone will be reassessed and taxes will go up. This is good because.....

Anonymous said...

Oh my Dan. . .there you go again. . .

Your house is MUCH larger than that 'cottage' you
mentioned and you ONLY pay $10,089 !!! I would
think that whole cottage would fit on your front porch.

Plainfield hasn't re-assessed since 1992. That
cottage was built after that. Of course it will be assessed higher . . . . O my Dan. .

And speaking about that Cottage, I asked one of the owners of it last week if he considered appealing his taxes (again). He told me "NO". He said they were interested in moving to another section of town.

In my opinion, his taxes would have been reduced if he appealed again. Appeals are based on recent market rate sales. Market is down Dan.

That pretty Mansion might have gotten a reduction too.

Oh my Dan. . . .

Oh my. .

time for a retraction?

jim spear

PS so you know my taxes are 16k , all my neighbors with similar houses pay, 8,9,10 & 11K. I'm the guy you should be speaking up for Dan.

Anonymous said...

While the second house is not a mansion, I certainly would not characterize it as a "modest cottage".

Anonymous said...

So, why doesn't the cottage owner go down to the tax assessor and have their taxes reassessed? It is an open process to all of us.

Of course, it could mean that the cottage owner may wind up paying more taxes if they asked to be reassessed.

Anonymous said...


Rob said...

Since people in NJ continually elect the same boobs into public office year after year because "this year they mean it" when it comes to corruption and cutting state spending I have zero sympathy for anyone in NJ. Everyone else's Assemblyman is the bad one, everyone else's Senator is the bad's the other 600+ school districts that cost so much to run not ours.
Cut spending, consolidate towns, cities and schools eliminating pay to play and you have a shot at starting to create an equitable taxation system.
And... Dan...even I can admit I am a little surprised you showed that "mansion"....and you call my comments boderline
No matter what, I like his house. He takes care of which is more than can be said for a lot of properties in Plainfield.

Anonymous said...

When I went to the tax assessor a few years back to complain about the significant disparity, her response was that "NO ONE WANTS TO LIVE IN A LARGE HOUSE" and the pay more for fuel etc, so they should be assessed at a lower rate. I specifically pointed to all the council members homes and what they pay. I then showed her her home and it's tax bill of $4,300. Don't even get me started on the people who aren't paying their fair share.

Anonymous said...

As the owner of the modest cottage, let me make this clear. I have tried 3 times to have my taxes reduced. All 3 times I was told no. And we are not interested in moving to another section of town. We are interested in moving OUT of town.

Anonymous said...

Check how much many of the apartment owners like Connolly, Hamlin, etc are paying. They pay roughly $20k a year for 20-35 units. Talk about injustice?

Randy Schaeffer said...

Dan --

I generally value and appreciate the community service you provide by helping us all stay informed of the goings on in our community.

But I gotta tell ya that to use Rashid Burney's home as an illustration of the problems of our property assessments is a real cheap shot.

Please explain to us what you have added, in this particular case, to the civility of the discourse that needs to take place in our community in order to address its problems.

Again - thanks for all you do, but with this posting I feel you have lowered your standards.


Randy Schaeffer said...


PS -- this doesnt mean that I didnt think that Rashid's showcasing his home on his blog back on March 21 wasnt more than a little creepy.


Anonymous said...

So everyone wants the city to do a re-valuation of properties. 3 things to consider. (1) the cost to do a citywide reval could cost up to a 1,000,000.00. (2) Residential properties usually go up while commerical properties go down. Therefore, you would not see a reduction in your taxes. (3) Most politicians do not want to be responsible for such a spike in property taxes which usually happens after a re-val.

Anonymous said...

This article is really pointless. Everyone knows that property taxes within a jurisdiction are without logic for the most part.

Honestly...we should be more upset with the schools situation.

As a homeowner, I am PISSED OFF that I pay 2X in property taxes as my neighbors across the street in South Plainfield. For the most part their houses are also larger than our side of the street.

So we pay twice as much as them and our schools are awful for students and rife with corruption.

Meanwhile the South Plainfield schools are worth sending kids to. Wheres the justice in that?

Anonymous said...

The current "Burney Mansion" was an utter shambles not all that many years ago. It could have very easily ended up bulldozed and lost forever. The money spent to restore that place must have been staggering, and instead of a vacant lot (or God forbid, replaced by several hideous "McMansions"), there is a beautiful estate that elevates the property values of every home in the area. It seems quite logical that some sort of deal may have been struck regarding future tax rates in exchange for restoring the place.

That having been said, it is also quite logical (and sadly not a stretch) to attribute the obscenely low property tax status of the Burney's home to their active participation in local government, real estate, and Democratic party fund times using the same lovely home in question for hosting such political events.

Irregardless, it doesn't explain nor justify why the property taxes on my home have nearly tripled since I bought it in late 1998, despite making no major improvements of the property. At the rate it's going, what in God's name will it be 5 or 10 years from now? What will property values be at as a result?

The fact is this city government sees us the property owners as money trees to shake whenever it suits them. If it's not hiking property taxes, it's sending out the "Code Police" to prowl around looking for something to fine you over. Or the "Garbage Police" with digital cameras to fine you if the lid of your can is not tightly shut or you leave it out at the curb more than 24 hours. It's ridiculous and I for one have had enough.

My house is on the market and I can't wait to get out of this town.