The Hoboken City Council sparred over out-of-town towing and discussed the upcoming citywide re-evaluation of property, a process that is years overdue.
Within the next few weeks, the council will vote on a contract for Appraisal Systems Incorporated to begin a “reval” for the 2014 tax year. A reval is often controversial, as it brings the appraised value of older properties up to the current market rate – meaning they will likely pay higher taxes – but will allow some newer properties that are overvalued to pay a lower rate.
For instance, a Hoboken property owner whose brownstone was purchased in 1980 may currently be paying low taxes based on the last revaluation, which occurred in the 1980s. But in today’s market, the brownstone will be worth much more.
Meanwhile, someone who purchased a condo ten years ago may find that it’s worth less in this tough economy, and get a lower appraisal.
Communities are supposed to conduct citywide revals periodically, but they are politically unpopular with longtime property owners. Hoboken has not done one in more than 20 years.
A representative from the company who came to Wednesday night’s council meeting said, “We as appraisers have no agenda. We estimate the fair market value.”
“We’re setting up a potential long-term problem for ourselves.” – Beth Mason
“Within the next 30 days we will be sending out a letter inviting people to look at our website. We will then hold meetings keeping people informed,” said Ernest DelGuerico, President of ASI. “It is important because a lot of myths and false facts about revaluation spread fear.”
The field staff will then hit the streets, literally knocking on doors to inspect the interior and exterior. If people are not home, they can make arrangements for the inspector to come back.
The revaluation is set to do a complete analysis of the market in Hoboken, from brownstones to high-rises. Appraisal Systems Incorporated said that they often don’t get to 10 percent of homes, and that depending on the town, it could be up to 30 percent.
“We’ll then send out a letter letting people know how we arrived at that number and invite people to talk if they don’t feel the number is fair,” said DelGuerico.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the council tried unsuccessfully to resolve the issue of whether resident Jim Doyle will get to take one of nine council seats.
Some council members voted back in October to appoint Doyle, an ally of Mayor Dawn Zimmer. But Zimmer’s opponents legally challenged the vote and Doyle was removed.
A judge then ordered all council members to vote on Doyle, which they did at a previous meeting. However, abstentions needed to be interpreted by Superior Court Judge Peter Bariso.
On Friday, Feb. 1 Judge Bariso concluded that Doyle be seated.
But an emergency stay was filed in the appellate division before Wednesday’s meeting. The issue was not talked about in depth at the meeting other than a brief report from corporation counsel Mellissa Longo and a comment from Council President Peter Cunningham regarding the accrual of legal fees until the matter is resolved.
In the meantime, the seat was empty.
The issue of towing in Hoboken elicited some discussion. Resident Patricia Waiters saw an agenda item saying that the cost of a tow would depend on the weight class of the vehicle. She complained about her experience, which opened a Pandora’s box of discussions about old towing issues.
Waiters said that she had to travel out of Hoboken to get her towed car back – difficult when you don’t, obviously, have your car.
The anti-Zimmer council faction said they were always against allowing out-of-town towers. Currently, there are four towing companies being used in Hoboken. Three of them are not in Hoboken. In the past, the city kept using the same towing company because it was the only one in Hoboken, but some believed that it was more important to get additional bids.
“As I recall it, [in the past] only bids from towing companies in Hoboken were allowed and there was only one [in Hoboken],” said Business Administrator Quentin Wiest.
“The company did not have to be in Hoboken; they needed to store their cars within city limits,” argued Councilman Michael Russo.
“Your parameters cannot be that your number of potential bidders is one; it’s a violation of the law,” said Councilman David Mello.
“There are two companies in Hoboken,” Russo said. “There were then and there are now.”
“This company was the lowest bidder and now he is one of four. It is a terrible injustice to our citizens,” said Councilwoman Theresa Castellano.
“It seems like a scam,” Waiters said. “Why are there three other towing companies?”
On top of this, a different item on the agenda directed the city to use “competitive contracting” for bids on a company to build a software program related to towing in Hoboken. A resident asked why this bid process was different than others.
Wiest explained that “competitive contracting” comes into play when one has to consider factors other than price in weighing competitive bids.
“The software package would be specific to the needs of the city, and you can’t go on someone’s claim that they can deliver,” Wiest said.
“The last time we took on developing software it cost the city millions,” said Councilwoman Beth Mason. “It was a disaster to the taxpayers of Hoboken. We’re setting up a potential long-term problem for ourselves.”
The measure failed in a 4-4 tie.
The engineering firm Boswell Engineering stirred up some emotion when Councilman Tim Occhipinti asked which contract they were working from. Apparently there are some lapsed contracts involving Boswell that put the company into “hold-over” status, a topic that has long-riled Councilman Russo. But Wiest said that there are still some current contracts for projects that Boswell is working on.
“Who is authorizing them to do work? It is incumbent upon us to tell all of our vendors not to resume work until they have new contracts,” said Russo.
Councilman Ravi Bhalla agreed with a lot of points Russo made, but also said, “I think it would harm the city’s interests to put in a blanket policy to stop all work.”
Russo requested a list of all vendors in hold-over status that details how long and why they are in that status.
A resolution in support of a New York Daily News petition drive calling for a ban on all assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and for comprehensive gun control, ignited the last feud of the night.
Councilwoman Jennifer Giattino asked for a more descriptive explanation on assault weapons and comprehensive gun control.
Nearly all of the council members chimed in their opinion of what these terms meant. This resulted in a lack of an explanation sufficient for Giattino, who ultimately voted against the measure.
“I don’t feel comfortable signing my name to something that I don’t know what it means,” she said.
Giattino, the only known Republican on the council, caught flack from Russo, who alleged that her trepidation came out of her party beliefs and not her lack of information.
The measure was sponsored by Mason and Councilman Tim Occhipinti.
Other public opinion
]In addition to towing, Waiters addressed Black History Month, asking the council to do something to celebrate. The City Council added it to their upcoming agenda. Waiters also said that downed businesses in the southwest end of Hoboken felt that Mayor Dawn Zimmer only cared about businesses on Washington Street.
Resident Franz Paetzold spoke about elections for state Assembly seats. He said he expected one seat to be filled by someone in Hoboken and one to be filled by someone in Jersey City.
“I ask whomever on this dais is interested in running to take more of a leadership role,” Paetzold said.
Past news articles suggested that Mason, Bhalla, and Russo may be interested in a slot.
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.