The old saying is that you can’t escape death or taxes.
But based on a recent experience in Union City, paying taxes may be a greater chore than you’d expect.
After we bought a house in Union City in July, our mortgage company notified us in December that our taxes for the last quarter of 2016 had not been paid.
This is different from when we lived in Jersey City, where the tax bill got paid as part of the mortgage.
The new mortgage required us to pay taxes ourselves. We thought we would get a tax bill in the mail like the water bill, and send in a check.
But we never received the notice, and as a result got a $29.50 tax penalty with a warning of worse to come if we did not make the payment. Lack of payment can also have a negative effect on our credit rating.
Vowing to figure out the problem, and certain this was the result of some error not of our making, I dutifully crossed town to City Hall on Palisade Avenue both to pay the bill and to rectify the situation.
I went to the tax assessor’s office on the first floor and met a woman at the door, who asked me what I wanted. When I started to explain that I had to pay my bill, she sent me to the third floor where bills apparently get paid.
I went there. I was the only person on line. But the clerk did not respond immediately, chatting instead for a few minutes with another employee before she noticed me.
When she came to the window, I told her that I wanted to pay my tax bill and that we hadn’t received a bill in the mail. While I was willing to pay the penalty, I wanted to make sure we received the tax notice in the mail for the next quarter and possibly learn why we hadn’t received one this time.
She said I would have to go to the tax assessor’s office downstairs.
Back down to the first floor I went, where again I met the woman from earlier. She was accompanied by a man who told me the information on the tax statement was correct. They had the right address. He suggested I go back upstairs to find out if they had sent the bill.
The woman upstairs said her department had sent it.
The man in the tax assessor’s office then suggested I talk to the U.S. Post Office to ascertain why I had not received the tax bill. Then, checking the record of sale, this man said the change of ownership hadn’t been filed until after the third quarter and so the bill was most likely sent to the old owner, a problem we also had with the water bill.
Already overheated from climbing up and down stairs in City Hall, I told the man I simply wanted to make sure the bill came to us and not the old owner in the future.
The man said the city sends out tax notices as a courtesy, and could not guarantee we would get notice. He suggested we get check in with City Hall around the time bills are due.
Later, going to the city website, there was a significant amount of information about how to pay the bill, but no notice about when they are due. My wife emailed the city requesting that the information about when to pay the bill.
A few hours later, Union City Mayor Brian Stack called our house. We were not at home. He left a message on the machine saying that it was logical to post the due dates for taxes to be paid and that would be done on the city website. He later called back and spoke with my wife to assure us that the city website would reflect this information in the future. He said it was logical and should be there.
While it’s great that the date will be posted on the website, the bigger problem isn’t whether or not tax due dates should be posted on municipal websites. The issue is that municipalities are often missing information on their websites, or behind in posting it.
Which brings us to the fact that state legislators have been trying to change a long-existing law that requires cities to post, in newspapers, notices of public meetings and other city action. Now, legislators want to leave it all in the hands of city websites.
If a city like Union City – which actually has been noted for having one of the best kept municipal websites in the county – doesn’t keep current basic information on its site such as tax deadlines, how can anyone rely on other cities with far less adequate websites? Or will people needing to find out vital information be forced to keep climbing up and down the steps of municipal centers hoping to break the stranglehold on information municipal bureaucracies have?
2017 will see several key elections
Mayor Dawn Zimmer appears to have put her campaign in high gear at the start of the year, ending any speculation that she might not run. She and the three at-large council seats are up for election in November.
While Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop has said he is running for reelection, it appears he will have plenty of competition and that could include at least one ticket of only council candidates.
Fulop currently has two opponents, Bill Matsikoudis and former Assemblyman Charles Mainor, but more are expected to jump into the fray. Even if he successfully wins reelection, Fulop could lose control of the City Council.
While Stack’s mayoral seat in Union City is not up until 2018, he will have to seek reelection this year for his state Senate seat. The big question is who will oppose him.
Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli said he will run for reelection this year. This is a partisan election, which means that Democrats could possibly introduce a ticket for the June primary, setting up a showdown with Gonnelli, who runs as an independent.
Tom Troyer, who lost again his school board bid this year, said he is open to running for the Town Council.
Troyer last ran for council in 2007, a year when Gonnelli won against Bob Kickey as second councilman. This left bad feelings between Troyer and Gonnelli. Many Gonnelli supporters believed that Troyer as a third candidate had deliberately tried to cut the Gonnelli vote in order to allow Kickey to win, something Troyer routinely denies.