By Chad Goerner
I’m writing in reference to Planet Princeton’s story concerning Assembly Bill A3888 and its Senate companion, S2212. The bill has made it out of the Assembly committee in an amended form. While it seemingly upholds the ability for a taxpayer to challenge assessments on other properties in the same county, it contains a sinister provision.
No taxpayer or taxing district shall be entitled to appeal either an assessment or an exemption or both that is granted to another taxpayer and is based on, related to, results from, or in any way arises from a financial agreement subject to the provisions of the “Long Term Tax Exemption Law” or any other financial agreement entered into between a taxpayer and a taxing district in which the taxpayer’s property is located, including, but not limited to, a host community agreement, settlement agreement or voluntary contribution agreement.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Princeton University and its integration into the community fabric, and at first glance, one might say well, if the town already has an agreement with the entity then what’s the harm? As is the case between Princeton University and the town of Princeton, a voluntary contribution agreement is critical to the financial sustainability of the town. This legislation is sinister because it attempts to completely remove the town’s leverage in negotiating these agreements or altering them in the future.
Back in the days when there was a Princeton Township and we negotiated the first voluntary contribution from the university, negotiations were based on the student population and the impact that the university had on the community. For all the good, the university also has an impact on infrastructure: roads, police, public works, etc. Those metrics were utilized to develop a framework for negotiation – they were not based on specific exempt or taxable properties that the university owned.
Yet if this bill were to pass, this leverage would essentially be eliminated in the future, as it would allow the university to potentially expand or alter the use of properties without formal appeal (a.k.a. leverage) based on a locked-in, long-term agreement. The town and the residents could be hamstrung by a voluntary agreement despite a growing and changing university landscape.
Equally important, the ability for a resident to challenge an assessment or exemption status is a fundamental right. There is no entity that should be immune to that – especially one with an endowment of some $22 billion. This piece of legislation is a power grab by powerful interests (I’ll leave you to determine who they are) at the expense of the residents who can be significantly impacted in their way of life and in their own property taxes if they are subsidizing a large entity and its unfettered growth. This bill will render them powerless to challenge assessments or exemptions. It’s wrong.
Other towns, and importantly, their representatives in the legislature, may not see the impact that this piece of legislation can have on their communities, but hospitals, for example, would also potentially benefit without resident challenge under this legislation. Residents of Princeton and the surrounding areas should contact their local representatives and let them know their thoughts on this potentially harmful legislation.
Mr. Goerner is a former mayor of Princeton Township.