Property owners at the Garret Heights development, a gated community near the Garret Mountain Reservation, whose condominiums’ assessed values held steady during the citywide revaluation have witnessed their tax bills almost double.
”With this new rate I’m really scared,” said Michele Moylan, who lives on Quartz Lane. Her two room condo was assessed at $201,500 in 2014 which remained about the same post-revaluation at $202,500.
Moylan’s tax bill has almost doubled under the new tax rate of 4.108-percent. She is not alone about a dozen property owners at the development, whose condos came off a tax abatement in 2013, saw their tax bills slowly increase before taking a leap this month.
Gathering thousands in a month
“The worse is the first is due October 6 for August. The next one is due already November 1,” said Margaret Knudsen, 64, observing the little or no breathing room between the two quarter payments.
Knudsen, who said she is on a fixed income, saw her taxes go from $5,843 to $8,545 this year. “I want to retire, and I’ll never sell my unit to do that,” she said. Knudsen and Moylan both also have to pay considerable amount in retroactive taxes for first and second quarter tax bills.
New Jersey law required the city to apply the new assessments from January 2015, according to city officials. The city applied the new assessment for the entire year and divided it by two in order to obtain the bills for the third and fourth quarters forcing property owners to pay the difference – the same application resulted in many property owners seeing heavy discounts in their year-end tax bill.
“I’m actually seriously considering strategic default,” said Sandra Giammichele, 47. She said she will have to cut back on paying her credit card bills to gather enough funds to pay her property taxes which went from $6,259 to $8,421.
“Now I have to go into my savings which is my retirement savings,” she said. She said she works a part-time and a full-time job to make ends meet.
“We’re going to default on our loans. We cannot do this,” added another condo owner Hilde Vaval, 53. She has enough funds to cover the higher tax bill. “When I say I have it, that’s all I have,” she said.
“Most people cannot come up with $6,000 by November 1,” said Vaval.
One income households
The condo owners at the Garret Heights are not poor, but a majority of them are the sole income earner in their household. Some of them said they will have to sacrifice elsewhere to pay taxes.
Moylan said she’s been saving up to replace her vehicle that has 215,000 miles on its odometer. “Now that money will go towards taxes,” said Moylan, 47. “The $6,000 I have to come up with before the end of the year — I have to hold off.”
“You watch what you buy at ShopRite now,” said Knudsen. “No vacation, forget vacation.” The condo owners also pay $305 per month on association fees that go to provide services that the city typically provides to most property owners.
No city services
“We receive no city services,” said Knudsen. She said the $305 association fee covers garbage pick-up, private road plow, recycling pick-up, and pole lights.
“The city is giving us nothing,” said Knudsen. She said during the winter the city’s public works clears snow off Mountain Avenue, but not the other streets that lead into the development like Boulder Run Road, Quartz Lane, and Crystal Lane.
Knudsen said the gated community receives only fire and police services from the city.
Some wondered how a typical Paterson family earning little more than $30,000 in annual income can cope with the large tax bills.
The city’s tax assessor Richard Marra estimated most property owners in the city will see a reduction in their tax bills during the first and second quarters of next year. Marra reckoned taxes were reduced for most homeowners. He has previously said an average city homeowner will see a savings of $900.
Most of the Garret Heights condo owners purchased their units at $300,000 or more. “I can’t even sell,” said Giammichele.
“We’re trapped,” said Vaval.
“Even if we were to sell who is going to move in here and pay $9,500 per a year?” said Kelly Booth, 45.
Christine Trumbour, 42, questioned the assessed value of her property. She said the property is likely not valued at $231,100 – the city’s new assessed value. She said the city should have conducted some sort of an impact assessment to inform taxpayers before the actual hit came.
“We all knew when our abatement was ending. We all planned. We all started putting money away because we knew it was going to go up,” said Trumbour. She and others said the city should have informed taxpayers of the impending scenario.
More than 300 units at the development are in the same situation, said the taxpayers. “We’re doomed,” said Knudsen. “We will be Detroit where the tax rate went up so high because they lost ratable, people started just walking away – and Detroit is now almost an abandoned city. And that’s exactly what we’re afraid is going to happen here.”
Knudsen said in other towns the mayor often includes a letter explaining tax increases. In Paterson, no such letter came with her tax bill. “He needs rateable and he’s scaring everyone away,” said Knudsen of mayor Jose “Joey” Torres.
Some of the unit owners have been living at the gated community for more than a decade others moved in as recent as three years ago.
“This is a great place to live,” said Trumbour. “Right across the street it’s beautiful.” She cited the deers and their fawns that often hangout about the mountain.
“Anybody in this community would go out of their way to help one and another,” said Trumbour. That community is changing as some sell their units to exit the city, said Moylan. She said often people who have children usually move out of the Garret Heights due to the city’s horrendous schools.
Trumbour said when she was purchasing her condominium in the Silk City she was told by a realtor Paterson is the only city between Philadelphia and New York City that has yet to undergo a renaissance. She placed her bet on the city’s rebirth, which noted Trumbour, has yet to materialize.
Instead what has materialized are taxes that may deplete many of their savings. “There will be no Christmas on the mountain,” said Moylan. “I can’t afford to buy Christmas presents for my family.”