By Michael J. Panter
Like Kevin Asadi and other residents, I recently received the letter from Senate candidate Vin Gopal which denounces the Assessment Demonstration Program (the “ADP”), implemented in 2013, as the source of high property taxes.
Since I have run in four state elections in Monmouth County, I have been in Mr. Gopal’s shoes. Political operatives refer to the weeks before an election as the “silly season”, since candidates will say almost anything about their opponents to generate a headline.
However, there is a line which should never be crossed – candidates should not issue false or misleading information, since it not only subjects them to legal liability, but most importantly, it does a disservice to taxpayers.
I sincerely doubt that Mr. Gopal authored this letter himself, although he is ultimately responsible for its content. I’ve spoken with his supporters who describe him as a bright and thoughtful individual, and this letter was not the work of someone possessing those characteristics.
Like all candidates, Mr. Gopal’s campaign was likely handed two notebooks from his consultants. Polling, which confirmed that property taxes are the paramount issue to voters, and opposition research containing a detailed analysis of Sen. Beck’s voting history.
The singular goal is to then connect Sen. Beck’s votes to high property taxes in any way possible.
The staffer who likely penned the letter for that purpose clearly had no understanding of the property tax system or the ADP, as Mr. Aladi eloquently described in his response.
Since this letter also included a thinly-veiled attack on a local business I founded and one of our partners (without naming either), I felt compelled to correct Mr. Gopal’s false and misleading statements. I didn’t want to do this, since I have gone to great lengths to stay out of the political sandbox since my last Assembly term ended in 2008.
First, the letter clumsily blames “massive property tax increases” on the ADP, to lay the groundwork for its attack on Sen. Beck by linking her to this program. The only problem with those statements is that the ADP has been a resounding success.
I will not repeat the facts contained in Mr. Asadi’s explanation of how Mr. Gopal’s letter misconstrues both the tax system and the ADP’s reforms, so let me offer some additional facts.
2015 was the first year in which the ADP affected assessments, and it resulted in tax decreases for one-third of Monmouth property owners. While this meant that two-thirds experienced increases, in prior years that figure was nearly 100%.
Countywide, the average tax change (the combination of all increases and decreases) was an increase of $124, or 30% below the 2014 state average. The actual increase was even lower, since much of it resulted from thousands of temporary Superstorm Sandy tax breaks being eliminated.
The ADP also saved taxpayers millions since it required annual assessment corrections to market value, so that appeals became less necessary. From 2008-2014, if even 50% of Monmouth homeowners who filed appeals hired attorneys, they would have paid more than $7 million in legal fees.
The ADP also changed the calendar for municipal budgets and appeal filings, which eliminated costly short-term borrowing by towns to replace (already budgeted) lost revenue from successful appeals.
Some may validly ask “Despite these facts, can Mike Panter be trusted in defending the ADP, when his company has been awarded contracts in that field?”
Great question. If the ADP were discontinued tomorrow, my company would be exponentially more profitable for one simple reason: under the old system, firms like ours are paid fees which are more than 300% higher than we earn for nearly identical projects under the ADP.
This is an additional source of significant taxpayer savings, and as the owner of several properties in Monmouth County, I want those savings to continue.
Second, the letter labels Sen. Beck as the “the architect” of the ADP and states that a partner in my firm “helped Beck craft the ADP” during his service on the Monmouth County Tax Board.
Let me offer some history, and insight into the legislative process.
The former Board member to whom Mr. Gopal referred is Dan Kelly, whom he labels as the “head” of my company, when in fact he is a minority member who only joined the firm the year after he was not re-appointed to the Board.
The development of the ADP began in Monmouth years before Sen. Beck took office, and many years before Mr. Kelly served on the Board.
After years of work (undertaken by a County employee who received no compensation), the program was proposed in the Assembly and Senate in 2011. It was sponsored by a wide array of Republicans and Democrats, and was passed via a series of unanimous, bi-partisan votes.
These votes included 5 separate legislative committees, and votes before the full Senate (36-0) and Assembly (78-0).
Despite being my opponent in past elections, I applaud Senator Beck for thinking outside the box, and helping to bring this innovative program to life for the benefit of taxpayers.
That said, it is wholly inaccurate to label Sen. Beck the “architect” of the ADP, which preceded her service by years.
The ADP then received the support of the NJ Division of Taxation and the Governor. The associations of Tax Assessors in both Monmouth and Burlington Counties then voted to implement the ADP in their respective counties.
At that point, following the unanimous approvals of over 200 elected and appointed officials, the Monmouth County Tax Board (on which Mr. Kelly served), approved the ADP’s implementation in 2013 as a final step in a decade-long process. The Board’s vote was also unanimous among all Republican and Democratic members.
For these reasons, Mr. Gopal’s contention that Mr. Kelly “helped Beck craft the ADP” is pure fiction. It is the equivalent of stating that a painter who helped apply a final coat to the Empire State building before it opened, was the architect and builder of that structure.
The letter then attempts to further tarnish Sen. Beck by ominously noting that the ADP spurred a “criminal investigation”.
The letter inexcusably omits the fact that this “investigation” was officially concluded many months ago, with no findings of wrong-doing by any individual or business involved in the ADP.
Including this reference in a campaign mailer exhibits a willingness to harm a local business and its employees for political gain – those who could be Mr. Gopal’s future constituents.
I will offer a piece of information, on the record, which is not publicly known – having received confirmation from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that I am entitled to do so.
Just this year, multiple individuals have been interviewed by the Monmouth County Prosecutor and the FBI with respect to one question: who were the real parties behind the false information provided to law enforcement, which prompted their (now concluded) investigation at taxpayer expense?
There is an ongoing trial to compel Monmouth County to disclose records which might yield this answer, and whether the “anonymous” allegations were in fact a scheme to benefit a party with a direct financial interest in seeing the ADP fail.
If false information was knowingly provided to law enforcement for that purpose, as I believe, there will be significant criminal and civil liability.
Finally, the letter notes that my firm has been awarded “millions in contracts” under the ADP.
My company is the only firm in our sector which has never given a political contribution, either as a business or from any individual partner.
We have been solicited, including by candidates supported by Mr. Gopal during his tenure as a county chairman.
We are also the only firm to my knowledge, that has a policy of refusing to accept any contract on a “no bid” basis.
Unlike legal, engineering and other firms, which routinely received taxpayer-funded contacts on a “no bid” basis, every contract within the ADP is publicly advertised and competitively bid.
In every instance of a contract award, the lowest bidder has been successful – whether our firm or others. This transparency is consistent with common sense, and has saved more tax revenue.
I’ll conclude with an invitation to Mr. Gopal. Despite everything, my hope is that whomever represents us in the State Legislature is well-informed about the critical issue of property taxes.
I would be more than happy to discuss the tax system and the ADP with him, and to direct him to sources with further information. I also wish success upon anyone elected this November.
Michael J. Panter represented Colts Neck, East Windsor, Englishtown, Fair Haven, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, Hightstown, Little Silver Borough, Manalapan, Marlboro, Millstone, Oceanport, Red Bank, Shrewsbury Borough, Shrewsbury Township, Tinton Falls, what was then the 12th Legislative District, in the New Jersey General Assembly from 2004 till 2008. He is a principal of Realty Data Systems and the managing partner of an investment advisory firm.
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