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Bayonne rebukes citizen-run tax revaluation website

RevalReview.com was started by Michael Alonso and Peter Franco

A screenshot from the tax revaluation website rejected by the city

Bayonne recently underwent a property tax revaluation for the first time since 1991. As a result, many residents experienced changes in their property taxes that they may disagree with or have questions about.

The COVID-19 pandemic has potentially prevented many residents from filing an appeal, leading Gov. Phil Murphy to sign an executive order extending the deadline to appeal property tax revaluations until May 1, or 30 days after the State of Emergency has ended.

That deadline has passed, and it is not clear if it will be extended an additional 30 days in tandem with the extension of the State of Emergency.

A citizen-run website was started to help locals after some residents faced problems getting their property tax records, including Board of Education Trustee Michael Alonso. As a result, former city council candidate Peter Franco teamed up with Alonso to launch a citizen-run website aimed to help residents retrieve information regarding their property taxes.

The City of Bayonne has rebuked the website, penning a press release in response to RevalReview.com.

The city advised that residents do not need to use a third party to obtain information about their properties or to speak to the Tax Assessor. Nevertheless, Franco and Alonso stand firm behind their website in an attempt to help other residents understand their tax revaluations.

“We’re not a public entity, we do not take money from anyone,” Franco said in an interview with the Bayonne Community News back in April. “We’re not asking residents for money and we are not providing residents with legal advice.”

Franco said that neither he nor Alonso suggest anything to residents, only provide them with information and contact them immediately. RevalReview.com also has a plan to help certain residents who may have had their properties improperly measured or incorrectly classified as a result of the tax revaluation.

Franco points to curb cut homes in the city as the problem. Apparently, many residents with on-site parking were charged the same as curb-cut homes without on-site parking, creating a major problem with the tax revaluation if the claims are substantiated, Franco said.

He and Alonso are in the process of drafting a letter to the city and Appraisal Systems Inc. (ASI) outlining the “major problems” with the property tax revaluation. Franco said he was advised by city officials to pen the letter to the city and ASI after bringing the alleged reval issues regarding curb-cut homes to light.

Meanwhile, the city has taken aim at their citizen-run reval-related online endeavor.

Incorrect information?

According to the city, RevalReview’s press release incorrectly states that a “…full (sic) detailed property tax card and inspection notes outlining ASI’s revaluation of their homes” would “…ordinarily be available to any resident upon request through the Open Public Records Act” and that “[t]ypically, this would take a minimum of 7 business days…”

The City of Bayonne said that taxpayers don’t need to file an OPRA request for their property record cards. Taxpayers can request a copy by calling the Tax Assessor’s office at (201) 858-6051 or emailing mjanuska@baynj.org. The city said an OPRA request would be required only for someone who is requesting other residents’ tax records.

“This is exactly what Mr. Alonso, a member of the Bayonne Board of Education, was required to do when he requested the property record cards of all property owners in the City of Bayonne on March 20, 2020,” according to the City of Bayonne.

However, it appears the whole point of the website was to circumvent the alleged long wait time some residents have experienced while trying to get their property tax records from the Tax Assessor’s Office.

As a result, Alonso and Franco have successfully OPRA requested the property tax records of all property owners in the city and can get the information to residents upon request, including their 2019 and 2018 property tax records as well.

The City of Bayonne maintained that the Tax Assessor’s office is handling all property tax record requests and continues to serve the public during the pandemic and advised against third-party websites.

Property owners can also download an Excel spreadsheet here from the Appraisal Systems website that shows the company’s preliminary assessments by individual property.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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