Category Archives: Charles Heck

Corruption Behind the $4 Million Tab for Tax Appeals in Middletown

By guest blogger Linda Baum

I’m sure we all recall the big jump in our property assessments on 2009 tax bills. That was the result of a town-wide revaluation done at the height of the market in 2008 — a huge mistake. It guaranteed there would be an onslaught of appeals and the drastic measures we saw this year by the Mayor and Township Committee to find extra money to pay the $4 million dollar tab.

Remember the ugliness? The seizure of $500,000 of library funds and threats of police layoffs to gain concessions. Middletown certainly didn’t feel like a great place to live.

The Township should have done a revaluation years earlier. It had been at least 15 years since the last one. The company hired to do the revaluation had difficulty explaining the delay. That company, Realty Appraisal, does loads of revaluations around the State, and the cause for the delay didn’t stem from their efforts. So then where does blame lie?

If you spoke to the County Tax Administrator, I’m sure he would tell you that revaluations should probably happen every 4-5 years. By waiting, Middletown drew the ire of the County Tax Board.

Middletown Republicans basically thumbed their noses at the County and refused to do a revaluation while other municipalities followed the law. Meanwhile, the richest property owners in the Township saw property values increase hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in that time period while their taxes were based on assessments from long ago.

Residents in less affluent sections of the Township were picking up the tab for the Navesink River Road crowd. That’s because when expensive properties are dramatically under-assessed, the effect is to remove potentially hundreds of millions from the town-wide assessment base. The result is that everyone else pays proportionately more.

The low assessment base means that the tax rate would have been set too high. Evidence of that is the big decline in the overall tax rate upon revaluation – it went from $3.787 in 2008 to $1.725 in 2009 (per $100 of assessed value). Owners of newly built homes would have been among the most adversely affected by the inflated tax rate, which, coupled with their higher more up-to-date assessments, means they were paying more in property taxes than they should have been in the years prior to the revaluation.

The bottom line is that the more valuable your property and the longer you owned it, the more money you stood to save from the Township’s failure to revaluate.

Per the County, around 60% of Middletown residents saw a reduction in taxes as a result of the revaluation. Since the Township still needed to collect the same total revenue, it stands to reason that owners of high end properties saw the largest dollar increases in their taxes after the revaluation.

It seems to me the Township most likely delayed the revaluation for two reasons.

First, the Republican Party leaders resided along the Navesink River Road corridor and had enjoyed tax-free, enormous increases in the value of their homes. As they took advantage of this increase in equity, the Township gave them a free pass. A revaluation would have increased taxes for many of them.

Second, Democrats had started to take seats on the Township Committee and the Republican Party desperately wanted to avoid losing votes, and possibly control of the Township, by doing a revaluation. Republican strongholds like Shadow Lake might have punished Republican leaders for tax increases and shifted the balance of power.

The County was upset with Middletown officials and, in 2008, took the unprecedented step of suspending our tax assessor, Charlie Heck, for failing to submit the paperwork necessary to do the revaluation. In a brazen admission of the underlying truths, then Mayor Scharfenberger actually referred to Mr. Heck as “Saint Charlie”. And this year, Mayor Fiore and our all-Republican Township Committee voted unanimously to award Mr. Heck a $15,000 bonus.

While you can draw your own conclusions, it seems obvious to me that Republican officials manipulated the process for their own political and personal financial gain. Due to their delays, when they were finally compelled by the County to submit the data for the revaluation, they did so on the eve of the financial crisis, just before property values plummeted. It would have been wise to postpone the revaluation until the market settled, but they couldn’t ask for another extension because they were already in deep trouble with the County for waiting as long as they had.

The delay cost taxpayers dearly. To deal with the unrealistic property data created by the poorly-timed revaluation, the Township was forced to undertake a costly reassessment this year, forcing taxpayers to expend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a reassessment that could have been avoided.

The overall tab may be $6 million or more now. Township officials won’t reveal how much or exactly where the money is coming from to pay for it. But appeal awards continue to roll in, and one thing is certain. Middletown residents will be feeling the sting for years to come.

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Filed under Charles Heck, corruption, Middletown Township Committee, property tax reassessment, property tax revaluation, Republicans, Shadow Lake, tax appeals, tax assessor, tax rate

>Middletown Budget Introduction and Public Hearing For New Salary (Bonus) Ordinance On Tonight’s Agenda

>During tonight’s Middletown Township monthly workshop meeting, two items are on the agenda that should be of interest to residents, the Township spending plan for 2011 will be introduced and Ordinance 2011-3027 will be given it’s public hearing.

The Township Committee, unlike prior years, will not host a special meeting tonight for the introduction of the Township’s proposed FY2011. Instead the introduction will be part of tonight’s workshop meeting and will limit resident comments and questions until the “Public Comments” portion of the meeting at end of the night.

After the budget introduction a public hearing is scheduled to take place on Ordinance 2011-3027 – the “Ordinance Amending Management Salaries and Non-Union Employees for 2011- Revised”, A.K.A “the Bonus” ordinance. For those that are not familiar this ordinance , this is the controversial ordinance that will authorize $20,000 worth of bonuses (or Stipends as mayor Fiore has now been calling them) to Middletown’s Tax Assessor Charles Heck and his assistant for work they did preparing for the Townships’ recent reassessment which was conducted by Reality Appraisal. This ordinance is scheduled for adoption at the next Township Committee on April 18th, so now is the time to speak out against it.

The meeting is expected to start at 8pm in the small conference room off the Clerk’s Office at Town Hall, so it would be wise to show-up early in case there is a large crowd interested in hearing the details behind this years budget or the proposed salary ordinance. Hopefully though, if that is the case and a large number of indiviuals show-up the meeting will be moved to the larger Court Room.

I hope to see you there.

Here is a link to tonight’s meeting agenda

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Filed under bonuses, budget introduction, budget resolution, Charles Heck, Middletown Township Committee, proposed budget, workshop meeting

>It’s Your Town – Newsletter Volume 3, Issues 6- 3/21/11; The Mayor Explains The "Bonus"

>This edition of the It’s Your Town Newsletter contains information about the March 21,2011 Middletown Township NJ Committee meeting. The meeting was short, lasting a little more than an hour. After Committee comments only two members of the public addressed concerns to the Committee.

Items that were spoken about include the transfer of surplus funds from the Middletown Library to the Township for the purpose of tax relief and the giving of a $15,000 bonus to the Township Tax Assessor Charles Heck, that Mayor Fiore later categorized as a stipend, for his work preparing for the township wide reassessment.

Here is a small excerpt from the newsletter that contains Mayor Fiore’s explanation of the bonus to Tax Assessor Heck:

…Mr. Fiore said in respect to the bonus of $15K to the Tax Assessor, Mr. Heck and the $5K bonus to the Assistant Assessor is very simple. He said the Township Committee reached a consensus and agreed that since Mr. Heck saved the Township $50K by doing some of the work Reality Appraisal was contracted to do he deserves the bonus. He said the Committee had the same consensus last year and that in order to spend $20K to save $50K, that is a pretty good spend when it is a net savings of $30K for the Township. He said that was not a bonus, but a stipend for the additional services by taking on more responsibility with the reassessment. Mr. Grenafege said that he and Mr. Fiore both worked in corporate environments and this is considered a bonus…


You can read the full Newsletter >>> Here

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Filed under bonuses, Charles Heck, Its Your Town, Middletown Library, Middletown NJ, Middletown Township Committee, Newsletter, stipend, surplus funds, tax assessor, Tony Fiore

>APP: Middletown assessor to get $15G payment for reassessment work

>So what do you know, I guess someone over at the Asbury Park Press has been reading my blog.

In today’s paper APP report Kevin Penton has written an article about the $15,000 bonus that Tax Assessor Charles Heck will be receiving for doing his job.

Two things that stand out in the article are that no one would make themselves available for comment other that Tony Fiore; not Township Administrator Tony Mercantante or Charles Heck himself, would comment.

Secondly is the arrogance of Fiore himself. Fiore is quote, “Let’s face it, without this money, there would have been no incentive for them to do the work.” referring to Heck and his assistant working extra hours for the bonus, instead of doing what would be expected from someone who earns $108,572 from the tax payers of Middletown.

Lets face it, Heck has a very cozy job, so cozy that he is able hold similar positions in town other towns, which has increased his salary and benefits to over $164,000 according to Data Universe , so let’s not try and kid anyone. Heck should not be getting anthying extra from the Township for doing a job that he is already highly paid to do.

Any money that the Township has realized as savings from Heck’s work should go to saving jobs, not lining Heck’s pockets. For Fiore to justify Heck’s bonus by stating ,”To spend $20,000 to save $50,000, that’s a pretty good spend.” as he did at Monday night’s Township Committee meeting is asinine. The whole $50,000 belongs to taxpayers and should be used towards saving jobs,services or paying off debt. Not for lining a political flunky’s pockets.

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Filed under Asbury Park Press, bonuses, Charles Heck, kevin penton, Middletown NJ, stipend, tax assessor, Tony Fiore, Tony Mercantante

>In The Face Of Tax Increases And Layoffs Middletown’s Mayor Fiore Justifies $20K In Bonuses to Tax Assessors

>

It never seizes to amaze me what the news media considers news when it involves Middletown. Case in point; Monday night was Middletown’s monthly Township Committee meeting and the only news coming from the Asbury Park Press, Redbankgreen.com and Middletown Patch about the meeting was that Middletown will be sticking to it’s intention of not exceeding Governor Christie mandated 2% cap on budgets, which is nothing new and has already been reported on numerous times, and that the budget will be introduced on April 4th, which I mentioned over the weekend.

What should have been reported as news by these three is the fact that in the face of a tax increase, employee layoffs and other potential service cuts, Tax Assessor Charles Heck and his assistant will be receiving bonuses worth $20,000 ($15K for Heck, $5K for his assistant).

Mayor Fiore justifies these bonuses because Charles Heck supposedly saved the Township $50,000 while negotiating the price of the recent Township wide reassessment with Reality Appraisal (a former employer of Heck’s) and worked many long hours helping prepare paper work for Reality Appraisal leading up to the reassessment.

When you factor in that Heck is will be receiving a statutory 2.5% raise to his $108,500 salary along with the $15,000 in bonus money, he will be receiving quite a windfall from the Township this year when other will be losing their jobs.
In the audio clip below you can hear Fiore at his best “fibbing” about why the Township Committee is giving Heck his bonus and about how last year, the entire Township Committee was in agreement about providing Heck and his assistant this windfall.
The thing is though, that when I spoke to former Township Committee Sean Byrnes about this he said that he had no recollection of a discussion taking place about Heck saving the Township $50,000. He stated that they wanted to pay him more because of all the tax appeals he had been working on, and that they subsequently approved the $400,000 price tag for reassessment by Reality Appraisal and that they (the Committee) must have worked this deal out later without him. He stated, as I had posted earlier, that last year when he was a Committeeman the Committee attempted to pass a similar resolution to reward Heck but t was dropped when he opposed it.
Fiore really needs to think about this before he opens his mouth again on this subject, I really can’t understand how he or anyone else can justify this when other peoples livelihoods are at stake. How can he look those, about to lose their jobs in the eye and tell them that someone will be receiving a bonus at their expense? If I were in contract negotiating with the Township right now, I wouldn’t cave in and give anything back when something as blatant as this is being waved in my face. I’d play hardball until the end.
It doesn’t make sense to spend $20,000 to save $30,000 when you expect a person to do a job that he is well compensated for already. Middletown tax payers should be benefiting by having the complete $50,000 put towards tax relief, after all it is their money more so than Heck’s.
On a side note, I hope those on the Library Board are paying attention to this. This is a perfect example of what others tried to warn them about before they voted to hand over $500,000 of reserved funds to the Township. The Township Committee can not be trusted to spend OUR money wisely or prudently. It’s OK to give a$15,000 bonus to an already highly compensated tax assessor but it is unconscionable give 1% raises to the lowest paid employees of the library, a raise that would average out to about $1 per week in their paychecks?
Shame on you Kevin Settembrino and the rest of you who sit on the Township Committee for allowing this to move forward.

http://www.archive.org/flow/flowplayer.commercial-3.2.1.swf

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Filed under bonuses, budget deficit, Charles Heck, layoffs, Middletown Library, Middletown Township Committee, tax increase, taxpayers, Tony Fiore

>Ordinance 2011-3027 And When Is A Salary Freeze, Not A Salary Freeze Explained: UPDATE

>Earlier today I was contacted by Middletown Township Clerk Heidi Brunt in reference to yesterdays’ blog post, I wasn’t available when first contacted, but I called her back around 4:30 this afternoon.

Ms. Brunt, after reading about my experience trying to get information pertaining to the proposed salary ordinance 2011-3027 (that was to be re-introduced at tonight’s Township Committee meeting) via an OPRA request. She wanted to apologise and clear the air about any misunderstanding that may have arisen from it. Clerk Brunt informed me that there was indeed a list of employees with job title and salaries available to me for the year 2009. She stated that if she had been in the office when I stopped by on Friday she would have presented me with what I requested.

After speaking with her and telling her exactly what I was after she said it was no problem, she requested me to send her an email so that she would have a record of my request. As soon as I sent her the email, with in minutes, she sent me a list for all township employees, their job positions and salaries for the year 2009 (even though I requested 2010). Ms. Brunt stated that to her knowledge, the salaries contained in this document had not changed.

While on the phone with Clerk Brunt, she did volunteer a small bit of information to me. Ms. Brunt mentioned that Tax Assessor Charles Heck and herself were due a 2.5% statutory salary increase for 2011. She informed me that, she, herself, had no intention accepting the raise and as a matter of fact had already turned it down. Her feelings were such that she in good conscience could not accept a raise while others were losing their jobs. She could not say the same of Tax Assessor Heck, who, she believes has not turned down the raise and is planning on accepting it.

Aftyer hanging up with Clerk Brunt it accured to me that I did not follow-up with her about Heck’s $15,000 “bonus” that was part of the ordinance. That is something that needs to be cleared up.

Heck received a salary of $108,572 from Middletown in 2009 which means he is due for an increase of $2714 in base pay increase if he accepts the 2.5% raise. A far cry less than the $15K “bonus” proposed in the ordinance, but which is no less disturbing.

Thank you Clerk Brunt for contacting me and clearing this up!

BTW – as a side note, it accured to me while looking at the list of employees and salaries, that this list doesn’t reflect the employees that retired or were laid off last year (2010), which isn’t a problem. Where the problem lays (and it really isn’t a problem, I just want to point it out) is that last year members of the Police Department were given a retro-active raise of 8% to cover salary increase for 2008 & 2009 in exchange for a 0% raise in 2010 (Gerry Scharfenberger was very proud of this), so I need to add 8% to the base of all members of the Police Department to get an accurate gage for 2011 salaries, which should not be misconstrued to be a jab at the Police.

I believe that the police have a very difficult job and at anytime during the day or night are putting their life on the line to protect other and uphold the law. One never knows when their next traffic stop or domestic dispute call will be their last.

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Filed under bonuses, Charles Heck, Heidi Brunt, OPRA requests, resolutions and ordinances, salary and compensation, salary freeze, Township Clerk, update

>Middletown Tax Assessor To Receive $15K "Bonus" Under New Salary Ordinance

>According to the new Township Salary Ordinance 2011-3027 that will be voted on and possible adopted at Monday night’s Township Committee meeting in Middletown, the Township Tax Assessor Charles Heck, is in for a windfall bonus of $15,000 for doing such a great job preparing for the Township reassessment.

Heck’s base salary is already over $108,000 according to the APP’s Data Universe . And everyone knows what a great job he did preparing the Township’s re-evaluations, he was suspended without pay for withholding information and not turning in reports on time. The work he did was of such quality, it sparked a huge avalanche of tax appeals that the Township is still trying to dig itself out from under.
Now, the Township thinks that Heck was overworked gathering numbers for Reality Appraisal, the company that the Township paid $400,000 to recently and was in charge of the reassessment, so he should be given a $15,000 bonus for all his extra work!
According to former Committeeman Sean Byrnes, the Township Committee tried last year to give Heck his bonus, but when Byrnes complained and disagreed with the idea it was dropped from consideration. Now that Byrnes is no longer on the Committee, those that feel Heck should be compensated for his fantastic extra work on behalf of the Township, have once again introduced it and plan to move forward.
I suppose this bonus money is coming from the funds that have been pilfered from the Library’s $500,000 that they Township has just confiscated.
BTW – The Assistant Tax Assessor will also be receiving a $5,000 bonus according to Ordinance 2011-3027 . Does anyone know who that person is? They must be doing an equally bang up job as Heck has done to justify a bonus when other’s have been subject to a salary freeze.

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Filed under Asbury Park Press, bonuses, Charles Heck, data universe, Middletown NJ, property tax reassessment, property tax revaluation, resolutions and ordinances, tax assessor