From the Star Ledger:
In the nation’s most densely populated state, Garden State residents value their space.
But they may not be so thrilled about what they are paying for it. The reason is a tiny municipal tax for open space — pennies per $100 of a home’s valuation — that, left unchecked, has added up to big bucks in some towns.
The result is homeowners in 50 New Jersey towns have paid out some $15 million more to preserve land, farms and historic and recreational sites than they had in previous years. In one town last year, the tax bills jumped by more than $150 for some homeowners.
The quirk comes into play when towns conduct revaluations. The problem is towns — which make adjustments to prevent other slices of the tax pie from skyrocketing — fail to do the same for the open space tax. Because that tax’s rate is tied to property values, the levy goes up when properties appreciate.
The longer a town goes between revaluations, the more homes are worth and the bigger the bite taken by the open space tax.
Over the last five years, 71 New Jersey towns with open space taxes underwent property revaluations. Nearly three-quarters of them failed to adjust their open space tax rates, leading to a 128 percent increase in their combined levies — a windfall of more than $15.5 million. By contrast, municipal taxes in those towns rose an average of 12 percent.
“I don’t think there was any malicious intent in their error,” said Librizzi, who currently serves as the tax assessor for Verona, Nutley and North Caldwell. “I don’t think the general public completely understands how the open space tax is calculated.”