Passaic Resident Taxed for Basements and Attics they are Not Allowed to Live in, Gary Schaer Thinks it’s Fair.

10 08 2008
Dorothy Blostein sits in her attic on Ascension Street in Passaic. She has lived here for 44 years and says a recent reassessment that includes her attic is unfair. (KEVIN R. WEXLER/Staff Photographer)

City reassesses space in 1,000 homes

PASSAIC — Roughly 1,000 city homeowners will be paying hundreds more in their quarterly tax bills this year because the city has adjusted its assessment for basements and attics that have been untaxed for more than a decade.

Tax bills sent out in July reflect the changes, and some residents are complaining that the city failed to give them advance notice.

City Tax Assessor Thomas Poalillo said that, because of a computer error, for 16 years about 1,000 homeowners had been paying a lower amount in taxes than they should have as a result of their property being incorrectly assessed.

Poalillo said Appraisal Consultants, the company that did the city’s last revaluation in 1992, put the wrong amount of livable space these residents have into the city’s tax assessments computer database.

Poalillo said that last year he decided to correct the error by 2008 and add these people’s attics and basements as part of their assessments.

“From 1992 to 2008, these people weren’t paying taxes on the correct assessment,” he said.

“It’s my job to treat everyone equally. Now everyone is being assessed correctly. Now everyone is on the same playing field.”

Dorothy Blostein has been living in her two-story house at 168 Ascension St. for 44 years and said she never has been assessed for her attic.

The assessment on her home went up $15,000 this year, which translates into a tax increase of $909 a year under the current tax rate.

Standing on the stairs of her dusty wooden attic on Thursday, the 79-year-old Blostein said she was shocked in July when she received her third- and fourth-quarter bills for 2008.

“You can see it’s not finished,” Blostein said, looking at the various objects she keeps in her attic: suitcases, a box of photo albums, an old computer and speakers. “It’s just junk,” she said, her voice beginning to rise.

Poalillo said tax notices were sent to all residents in January.

Municipal, school and county taxes all went up this year.

Blostein said she understood why taxes needed to go up, but she also said: “I expect an increase that’s logical. The city should have sent a courtesy letter. The treatment wasn’t exactly ethical.”

At the last council meeting, Blostein complained about the sharp increase.

She said she never got a formal notice. Acting Mayor Gary Schaer said he had received phone calls from other residents facing a similar predicament, but he didn’t see any reason for the complaints.

“For the past 16 years, you’ve been getting a break,” he said at the meeting.

“I don’t think it’s a break at all,” Blostein snapped back. She said she wondered if the sudden increase had something to do with the city’s budget situation.

Poalillo said his decision to rectify the error had nothing to do with the budget. He said Blostein is paying for her 1,176-square-foot, unfinished attic, something she never had to pay for before.

Blostein said she would have liked to appeal the case, but since she was not aware of the increase, she missed the April 1 deadline for 2008.

Ernie Schneidemann, president of the Passaic County Board of Taxation, said he found it strange that Blostein was not notified of the change, but he also said it was not out of the ordinary for the city to add the attic space to her assessment.

“Even if it’s unfinished, it has some value, because it has some potential.”

PCJN addition:

On the blog PassaicJews, school board member Jose “Alex” Ybarra weighed in on this issue:

“I have never heard of anything more unfair in tax assessment in my 30+ years in
politics. These poor people have to pay taxes on a space simply because it has
“Potential” to be used. Yet City Law prohibits the use of the Attic except for
incidental storage. They cannot use it to rent out in order to make more income.
§ 125-3. Unapproved occupancy of attics prohibited.
[Amended 3-7-1985 by Ord.
No. 836-85; 4-6-1995 by Ord. No. 1321-95; 9-18-1997 by Ord. No. 1416-97;
3-2-2000 by Ord. No. 1484-00]

 

This is tantamount to charging all males over 18 child support, whether we have
any children or not… after all… we have the potential!”

 

 

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