For New Jersey's backlog of property tax appeals, more help is on the way.
The state’s tax court — which many tax attorneys say is badly understaffed — welcomed a new judge this spring and will get another later this year after the state Senate approved an additional nominee this month. The will bring the total number of judges to eight, a welcome development for litigators working on behalf of property owners and municipalities.
“There’s only so many cases one tax court judge can handle,” said A. Paul Genato, a Princeton-based property tax attorney with Archer & Greiner. He said the new additions will help ease the backlog, but as of now, a property owner can file an appeal and likely not have a first appearance in court for a year and a half.
In April, Kathi Fiamingo was sworn in as the seventh tax court judge. The Kenilworth resident now sits in Newark, hearing cases from nearly two dozen Bergen County municipalities and Paterson in Passaic County.
And earlier this month, the Senate confirmed Joshua D. Novin of Montville after he was nominated by Gov. Chris Christie in June. He will be sworn in later this summer after winding down his practice, Judge Patrick DeAlmeida, the court’s presiding judge, told attorneys.
Genato, member of the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on the Tax Court, said Novin “has an excellent reputation among tax court practitioners.”
The appointment won’t bring the tax court to a full staff, but it will chip away at a backlog of nearly 44,000 pending cases through June 2013, the end of the last court calendar. And that was after its judges had cleared more than 12,000 cases during the previous 12 months.
Experts attribute that to a slowly recovering market for many types of commercial real estate, while expenses continue to rise. In many cases, those circumstances are not reflected in the assessed property values that municipalities use to calculate their tax bills.
“Different towns respond to these appeals in different ways,” Genato said. “And there are some towns where they defend their cases, so you’ve actually got to … be ready to try a case. And that might not happen for a few years.”
It all comes down to the backlog, he said, noting that “everybody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”
And in a new twist, attorneys say municipalities have started to file appeals against owners whose properties they feel are underassessed. So-called “reverse appeals” are effectively turning the tables on a longstanding process that normally starts with property owners.
The backlog of cases does not appear to be slowing down. In the past seven months alone, judges have docketed 11,660 cases, according to a report on the tax court website.
The tax court actually has 11 judges on its roster, but four of them are listed on the judiciary website as “temporarily assigned” to the state Superior Court and are not hearing property tax appeals.
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