A Princeton resident yesterday called on the town to remain neutral in the court case regarding Princeton University’s tax exempt status.
Dale Meade, one of the residents who challenged the results of the 2010 tax revaluation in Princeton, spoke at the special Princeton Council meeting that was held at 4 p.m. yesterday. Meade spoke prior to the Council going into closed session to discuss the case. The town has been named as a defendant in the case along with Princeton University.
The town’s position so far has been that it must side with the school and defend the town’s tax assessor for exempting various Princeton University properties from being on the tax rolls.
“While the assessor is paid by the municipality, the assessor takes direction from the Mercer County tax administrator on all assessment issues,” Meade said. “The municipality is not supposed to have any voice or take a position on property tax assessments.”
Meade recalled that whenever residents brought up issues about the property revaluation in 2010, local officials told residents that officials have no say in how the assessments are done and could not get involved in the process.
“The municipality should remain neutral, and only take the position that they support strict compliance with the New Jersey statutes and IRS regulations,” Meade said.
After the meeting, Meade questioned whether it is possible for the town to be removed as a defendant so that the town is not put in a difficult situation of having to back the school in order to defend the tax assessor.
Meade also said the town needs to avoid any conflicts of interest in the case.
“Municipal officials need to be squeaky clean on possible conflict of interest with the regard to positions on the lawsuit and assessments,” he said.
Officials pointed out that two people with potential conflicts of interest did not attend the meeting. Mayor Liz Lempert, whose husband works for Princeton University, did not attend the meeting. Councilwoman Heather Howard, who works for Princeton University, was also absent.
Meade said anyone with a potential conflict of interest should not have any input or interaction at all regarding the lawsuit.
Council President Bernie Miller and council members Jo Butler, Jenny Crumiller, and Patrick Simon attended the meeting along with the town’s tax lawyer, Harry Haushalter, Administrator Marc Dashield and Clerk Linda McDermott. Princeton University has hired a large New York law firm, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, to serve as the lead legal team in the case.
A handful of residents are plaintiffs in the suit, which challenges the property tax exemptions for some of Princeton University’s properties. The lawyer for the residents argues that some of the school’s buildings are used for profit-making enterprises and therefore should not be tax-exempt. The school has argued that the properties should be exempt since the money is used for educational purposes. The school asked an appellate court to throw the case out, but the court ruled in April that the case can move forward.