Mayor urges residents to weigh in on funding — Pascack Press & Northern Valley Press | #students | #parents

Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo speaks at the annual Breakfast with the Greater Pascack Valley Mayors on Jan. 29, 2020. | File photo by Murray Bass

WOODCLIFF LAKE—Two borough councilmen are joining the fight against the borough’s disproportionately high regional school district tax bills by demanding answers from the state about why local taxes went up an average $545 this year while other district towns went down dramatically or only increased slightly.

While the average Woodcliff Lake taxpayer faced a jump of $545 for Pascack Valley Regional High School District taxes, River Vale’s average regional school tax declined $250.24 annually.

Hillsdale’s school tax levy increased $17.28 over last year, and Montvale’s annual school tax showed a $13.90 decrease over 2020’s tax bill.

According to the regional district, the average assessed Woodcliff Lake home was $767,963. In Hillsdale the average assessed home was $473,23; in River Vale $593,381; and in Montvale $525,925.

The district’s 2021-2022 budget totals $53,597,807, an increase of 1.94% over 2020’s budget.

The taxes for the Pascack Valley Regional High School District are based on a state regional school funding formula that charges towns more based on their average home assessed values. It’s a formula that has grown more complicated and in Woodcliff Lake’s case, more unfair as the years continue, officials note.

The state tax formula is based on taxable property wealth and student enrollment, said Yas Usami, business administrator for Pascack Valley Regional School District, in his annual budget presentation.

Usami’s presentation can be found via a link on the April 26 agenda. Officials said it costs about $33,000 annually per student at Pascack Hills High School.

One possible culprit for the large local tax increase, said Schnoll, may be the fact that only Woodcliff Lake (of the district’s four towns) does annual rolling property tax reassessments of properties.

This rolling reassessment helps the borough stay current with property tax assessments but also increases the overall value of borough properties for tax purposes.

“We’re trying to get an explanation as to how the budget was distributed to towns and whether a mistake was made in the (tax) calculations,” said Schnoll at the May 17 council meeting.” It seems somewhat outrageous to me.”

Mayor Carlos Rendo said the borough has been fighting for over a decade against the higher tax assessments on Woodcliff Lake due to the state’s regional funding formula.

“We subsidize, essentially, the other municipalities,” he said.

He said the borough has been pressing state officials to allow them to become a send and receive district that would help reduce its regional education costs.

Previously, the borough had undertaken studies to determine the best course of action, in concert with Montvale, to possibly create its own regional district or depart from the Pascack Valley regional district.

For the 2021–2022 school year, the state regionalization formula allocates specific budget percentages of tax obligations to the four district towns.

The state-approved breakdown shows Woodcliff Lake at 25.277%; Montvale at 27.198%; Hillsdale at 23.327% and River Vale at 24.198%, according to a district budget presentation by Business Administrator Yas Usami.

Schnoll said the borough’s rolling reassessment of property taxes, which rose significantly due to leaping housing prices, may have caused the borough’s overall property assessment valuation to increase and added to a formula that penalizes the borough, may have led to a $545 average annual increase.

“Perhaps our property values went up and the others, the way they calculate and do their assessments, did not,” said Schnoll. He said he would try to get an answer from the state first about the tax increase and its calculations.

He said that the role played by rolling reassessments in its regional tax increase should be explored further.

“This tax increase ($545 average increase) is really harmful to the residents of our town,” Schnoll said. He said people “at the upper end” of property tax assessments will be “paying significantly more” than the $545 assessed to an average borough home.

He said that he and Marson would be doing everything they can “to alleviate this situation.” Added Schnoll, “It’s been an ongoing problem and there are changes coming in the state that may be able to help us and we are going to be looking into that significantly.”

Rendo said the borough was considering proposals and grants to pursue a regionalization effort apart from the regional district and to further study the situation.

Rendo said because Woodcliff Lake still has a lawsuit pending against Hillsdale and River Vale to be able to leave the district, he could not fully discuss the borough’s plans.

He said residents would hear more from him and the Regional School Funding Committee chaired by Schnoll in coming months.

Rendo said residents should “get involved in your school district” including the local and regional districts. “There are a lot of issues that impact us all, taxes, the new curriculum put forth by Gov. Murphy. Again, our budget is small compared to the county and regional budget,” he said.

“We’re getting hit hard and really to the detriment of all our citizens,” Rendo said, adding thanks to Schnoll and Marson for tackling the regional school funding issue.

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