Residents call out mayor on taxes; he explains township’s tax situation

Mayor Christopher Capodice

SPRINGFIELD, NJ — Taxes have been difficult for everyone in recent years, but one resident places the blame squarely on local government.

“I’ve got a lot of unhappy residents that feel the same way. My development is Springfield Park Place, which is 312 townhomes, all owned, no renters,” said Homeowners Association President Mark Stanziale in an interview with Union County LocalSource on Monday, Sept. 25. “And we have a legitimate gripe.”

Stanziale said all of Union County hadn’t had a reassessment in 20-22 years and the towns had to look at their tax base and do some kind of assessment. He said he had been speaking with the town for many years and always felt overtaxed. Inspectors were supposed to take a look at the units a few years back but because of the COVID-19 lockdown, they wouldn’t go in and instead sent out forms. He claims that not only did he find out his units were mismeasured, they were all oversized.

“I went through the process of resizing every unit,” Stanziale said. “There are multiple models. I was one of the original owners from 30 years ago. It was supposed to be 2,150 square feet and I came to find out that, in actuality, it was about several hundred square feet less than that. So we’re paying property taxes on larger units than they really were.’

“So I had meetings with the tax assessor, Ed Galante, and I said this is from my civil engineer,” he continued. “I said just take a sampling of what our civil engineer did. And Galante agreed, but said in the coming months, all of Union County is getting assessed. This was right before COVID.”

“Then we started getting the letters to fill out the forms because this company was hired by Springfield and they’re going to assess everything,” Stanziale said. “I submitted our engineer report to the right sizing or resizing, because Springfield had it wrong. I was on the phone with Galante and I said ‘just take a look at our models.’

“Our taxes after the reassessment went down in 85% or 90% of all the units,” Stanziale said. “I live in an 1,800 square-foot townhouse and before the decrease in taxes, I was paying $12,300 a year in property taxes. The crux, why I took this on, besides doing it for myself, is they’re actually forcing the elderly out.”

Edward Galante, the tax assessor for Springfield, remembered things a bit differently, however.

“I think the issue was they had an appraiser who was measuring from the inside,” said Galante in an interview with Union County LocalSource on Monday, Sept. 25. “But we don’t do it that way. We measure from the outside. A lot of people get confused. We didn’t do anything wrong is the bottom line. The entire state of New Jersey measures from the outside.”

As for the increase in taxes, Galante said, “It’s because the state of New Jersey has raised what each town has to pay. The Township Committee put together a list of a whole bunch of things that went up. The rate changed higher than normal because of all the things that went up. So every town has to pay a lot more, but it had nothing to do with the revaluation.”

When contacted by LocalSource, Springfield Mayor Christopher Capodice sent a detailed email on Friday, Oct. 6, explaining both the township’s tax situation and where he thought Stanzione was mistaken.

“Significant portions, approximately 60%, of our budget, are dedicated to non-discretionary items that lie beyond our control,” said Capodice in his email. “Over the past year, we’ve witnessed substantial increases in these expenses. Garbage and disposal costs surged by 34%, library expenditures spiked by 30%, recycling collection fees and medical insurance expenses saw a 21% uptick and workers compensation insurance costs rose by 20%. The $458 increase in the municipal portion of the average residential assessment for the year doesn’t encompass the library, school, county or county open space portions.”

There were unexpected assets as well, which the mayor was quick to explain.

“The township had an unplanned sale of the Sarah Bailey building, with the proceeds being utilized to settle a bond debt owed by the township,” Capodice said. “This bond encompassed various items, projects and services that had already been utilized, expended or were no longer in service after many years. The funds were allocated to retire this debt, aiming to establish a more financially stable foundation for our township’s future, avoiding the practice of deferring financial obligations to future budgets or township committees.”

Despite the mayor’s explanation of many of Springfield’s expenses, Stanziale insists part of his concern has been the lack of communication between the township and its residents.

“Months passed after COVID and we came up with our adjusted primary taxes and we saw a savings for about 6 or 8 months and, about a month and a half ago, the township said they communicated this through Facebook and town meetings and the town paper,” Stanziale said. “I thought it was a mistake when I got my tax bill. My taxes went up 18%. From what I’m understanding, everybody in town was hit with a significant tax increase.

“We all got this document on a Wednesday or Thursday. The Township Committee scheduled a meeting, the mayor was not there, so the township administrator was in charge, plus the (chief financial officer), Ed Galante and two or three other people on the tax and accounting side. Their opening statement was that the committee worked really hard to get this last-minute meeting put together. I asked how they communicated this and they said they did it by FaceBook and the town paper. It was just one excuse after another.”

“The moral was we were on a need-to-know basis and they decided we didn’t need to know, because they didn’t want to take the flack,” he added.

“Basically, we all had the same questions. They were ill prepared. It was underhanded,” Stanziale said. “Other municipalities within Union County decided to keep their budgets flat because of the revaluation and they didn’t see the need to do that in Springfield.

“The meeting happened at the end of June and they said we should get the final number by the end of July. We haven’t gotten the new numbers yet and it’s the end of September.

“We spoke to an attorney, who said we can’t do anything until we have the municipal numbers, the county numbers and the state numbers,” Stanziale said. “Once I give him the numbers for the entire complex, we’ll decide what to do with them. I believe it would be a class action lawsuit for the 312 homeowners. We’re one big development.”

Capodice remembers things differently.

“During a recent Township Committee meeting, a Park Place resident claimed to represent a substantial portion of residents in that development, citing a severe increase in taxes,” said the mayor. “However, it was later discovered that he had mistakenly multiplied his 3rd quarter estimated bill by four.”

Capodice pointed out that, in addition to these uncontrollable expense increases that he had cited, the township faced several expensive challenges:

• Consecutive severe storms: In 2020, Hurricane Isaias and, in 2021, Hurricane Ida caused extensive damage to the town, including flooding of homes and municipal buildings. This resulted in prolonged power outages and extensive cleanup efforts.

• COVID-19 impact: Dealing with the pandemic for almost two years strained Springfield’s first responders, leading to shortages of personal protective equipment and extended periods of worker illness. The First Aid Squad worked tirelessly to meet the increased demand for their services.

• Rising sanitation costs: Escalating sanitation costs forced the township to seek competitive bids, but only one company expressed interest, citing a lack of manpower for the town.

• State-mandated property revaluation: A state-mandated property revaluation, not initiated by the township, led to fluctuations in property taxes, with a substantial number of property appeals causing a loss in tax revenue.

“Right now, the Township Committee has been committed to exploring cost-saving measures since the beginning of 2023,” said Capodice. This includes a focus on:

• Maximizing departmental efficiency: Conducting comprehensive reviews of all departments to optimize operations without resorting to layoffs.

• Evaluating fixed costs: Negotiating insurance premiums and implementing risk management strategies to reduce fixed costs without compromising protection.

• Economic development program: Collaborating with the Business Improvement District to attract new businesses, stimulate growth and increase revenue.

• Dedicating PILOT money: Allocating a portion of payment in lieu of taxes funds from developments for tax relief, directly reducing the tax burden on residents.

“Implementing these strategies is aimed at ensuring fiscal responsibility, promoting economic growth and improving residents’ quality of life, all while avoiding significant tax increases or employee layoffs. It requires careful planning, collaboration and a commitment to efficient governance.”

Photo Courtesy of Christopher Capodice