In New Jersey, spared by Sandy but paying the price in taxes

Thu Apr 11, 2013 5:56am EDT
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By Hilary Russ

BARNEGAT, New Jersey (Reuters) - Philip Checchia's home in Barnegat, New Jersey, escaped undamaged from Hurricane Sandy in October, but the 67-year-old is bracing for a different kind of storm damage - higher property taxes.

New Jersey home owners already pay the highest taxes in the country, with the revenues going to fund schools, police, firefighters, roads, and building projects. When the value of taxable property drops in one area, the burden often shifts to others to make up the difference.

At the epicenter of the problem is Ocean County, where Checchia lives, and where miles of long, fragile barrier islands bore the brunt of the storm's beating. The storm carved $7 billion out of the total value of the county's taxable property.

"You and I are going to pick up for people that chose to buy houses on the water," Checchia said, sitting on the couch in the small two-story home he shares with his wife and grandson in a tidy, tightly packed middle-class neighborhood. His annual tax bill is already about $4,700 on a house valued at about $170,000 - roughly half what it was worth before the housing market collapsed, he said.

Ocean County saw its tax base - the combined value of all real estate subject to property taxes - dwindle to about $90 billion from $100 billion in 2012, said John C. Bartlett, a local elected official who heads the county finance department.

About $7 billion of that is due to Sandy damage, with the remaining $3 billion stemming from ongoing reassessments after the housing market declined, Bartlett said.

Expensive waterfront houses, some of them vacation homes for retirees, generated a large amount of the revenue that funds local schools and towns. "Thirty percent of our tax base was along the coast," Bartlett said.

Five months after the storm, some communities along the Jersey Shore - famous for its boardwalks, beaches and kitsch - are still struggling to rebuild. Workers are trying to repair wrecked boardwalks in time for summer, and a few houses, knocked off their foundations, still lie on their sides.   Continued...

This National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) photograph taken on October 31, 2012 shows a new inlet that was cut across the barrier island of the New Jersey coastal town Mantoloking just north of where Hurricane Sandy made landfall in Ocean County, New Jersey. REUTERS/NOAA/Handout/Files