Jersey City homeowners suffered from déjà vu this week when they received a second copy of their quarterly property tax bill, a mailing letter that included a memo from Mayor Steve Fulop absolve himself of responsibility for the tax increase.
The landlords the Jersey Journal spoke with said the first mailing included only the tax bill. The second mailing had two parts: a physical copy of the property tax bill and the mayor’s explanation of the tax increase of about $1,000 per year (for the average homeowner).
Last year, the city used COVID-19 relief money to knock out $1,000 from the local portion of the average tax bill to offset the $1,000 school tax increase. Officials say the increase is just back to the 2020 tax level. The homeowner’s property tax is a combination of county, school and municipal taxes.
A city spokeswoman said the mail resend corrected an error in which some residents did not receive the bill, the letter, or both. She declined to say how many residents were affected or how much money the city spent on sending the tax bill for a second time. She said the Department of Finance is responsible for the correspondence.
“This has been a standard practice for the city for over 30 years, with every mayor sending a letter because residents deserve an explanation of why their taxes have changed,” city spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace Scalsion said.
But some property owners believe that the second round of mail was an opportunity for the mayor to push the narrative that the school district was not financially responsible.
Jersey City homeowner Megan Carolan said she received her tax bill from the city in the last week of June without a letter from the mayor. Then came Tuesday, more mail, this time with both the mayor’s letter and tax bill. She said other landlords have had the same experience.
In the letter attached to this quarter’s bills, Fulop said municipal taxes have remained the same for the past few years.
The blame for raising the tax bill instead lies with the Board of Education which recently approved a $974 million budget for the 2022-2023 school year, a 15% increase over the previous year’s budget and a $1,600 tax increase for the average landlord.
“Despite our efforts to help reverse their course and my outspoken opposition, the Board of Education continues to rely on raising taxes rather than taking responsibility for reforming its budget without affecting classrooms,” Fulop wrote.
While some pessimists describe the “mistake” as a convenient excuse, Carolan noted that this isn’t the first time Jersey City has had to correct a tax bill.
Last year, Jersey City overcharged property owners for the recently added arts and culture tax in what was described as a “clerical error.” That money was refunded to taxpayers on their October property tax bills.
Prior to that, in July 2021, the Municipal Utilities Authority overcharged property owners for solid waste fees, in some cases in the hundreds of dollars. Fulop said at the time that the accusations were a mistake by MUA and water operator Suez.
The city has responded by paying the exorbitant fee while instructing others not to pay the fee at all until it is corrected.