Op-Ed: Say It Isn’t So
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.
I think this opinion is a very important one for all Princeton residents to hear and I am afraid it won’t get its due attention in the new PP format. I truly appreciate all the work that’s gone into this website and even more, the coverage you provide Krystal, but I have felt ever since the new website format launched that NOT having the most recent post highlighted at the top of the page would have people assuming there’s nothing new and not scroll. I have been waiting and hoping this issue would make itself evident, but with the importance of this post I had to speak up. Is it possible to make the most recent post the top post, Krystal? Thank you for all your work.
Agree 100%. Redesign is not working. Especially when the top post seems chosen primarily because it has the strongest art. For instance, there was some throwaway post about dogs in boats up there for like a week. Took me a long time to realize the site was actually being updated. Please reconsider this change, for your own benefit.
Your public expression of concern is appreciated, Chad. A lack of good government clearly exists in our failure to properly negotiate & manage our school district budget. As a result, resident taxpayers’ wallets bleed to provide the highest cost per student, largest school district budget, & biggest school pension in the County. If legal inquiry was possible, the extreme burden of our school taxes alone would be deemed criminal. While these Bills may allow municipal entities to legally explore taxation, our current Council members haven’t & will never step up to reduce middle class, non-university taxes, resident taxes here.
Thank you Krystal.
So far as I know, Planet Princeton is the only media outlet to have reported on this remarkably wrongheaded bill that would give powerful non-profits, among them Princeton University, immunity from court challenges to their tax exempt status. Thanks PP for covering this and reminding us all of the importance of a vigilant and independent press. Without the coverage, the bill–couched in technical language and involving the arcane rules of tax exemption challenges- might have sailed through the legislature without a dissenting voice. The lesson: Support your local independent press whereever you can find it. In this case, the press is Planet Princeton.
The op-ed has also done readers an invaluable service by noting that the bill would (l) squash citizen access to the courts and (2) would also prevent municipalities from seeking legal redress for questionable exemptions if they have negotiated “voluntary agreements” with the non-profits involved. This legislation–whether it was devised to help hospitals or to protect Princeton University which is currently defending a tax exemption lawsuit–is a really bad idea. Thanks to Planet Princeton for putting it on the public radar. Thanks to Mr. Goerner to let readers know that the bill is even worse than we thought.
nail on the head Chad. The university continues to buy more and more land, homes and commercial property. Too often these tax paying properties are no longer taxed. mom and pop shops and those left paying the taxes must pay even more. As these taxes continue to rise you will obviously lose the less expensive homes and neighborhoods. Thats why you now have tree ordinance and recent historic designation. Council is treating symptoms of rising taxes, not the rising taxes.
This bill is clearly WRONG and anyone voting for it should be ashamed to have their name associated with it. The opinion of each member of Princeton’s council, and our mayor, would be helpful so that we can better assess who warrants our vote. That of course goes as well for our state legislators.
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