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100 Gather To Take on Rising Taxes, Organizer Has Harsh Words For Hopatcong

About 100 people show up to Saturday's Roll Back Our Tax meeting.

More than 100 people filled the to confront the issue of the borough's rising property taxes on Saturday night.

Hopatcong resident Randall Paulenich said he organized the Roll Back Our Tax meeting because he was upset the property taxes on his lakefront Ithanell Road home have risen at least 5 percent each year since his family moved to the borough in 2003 and were too high, in general.

Last August, Hopatcong officials told residents in a letter that property taxes went up about 6.94 percent on average.

Paulenich told Patch he hoped to "send the mayor a message" with the meeting. "No tax increases next year," he said. "A lot of these people can't afford it."

Paulenich opened the meeting with a speech about his background and reasons for organizing the meeting.

"I believe in this town there's not enough representation of taxpayers," Paulenich said at the beginning of the meeting.

“We need to get more people involved in at least the government. I think that we're on the verge of a little bit of a tax revolution, not only here but in other boroughs, cities and states nationwide," he continued. "And I think what Gov. [Chris] Christie has started, you're going to see a lot of states doing this.

"I am not after the teachers or the policemen in this school district. To me, personally, I believe that they're probably a little bit underpaid. But this isn't about policemen or schoolteachers. It is about the administration both on the education level and who we have in city government.

"After I disclose to you to a couple of things, you're going to be a little bit [ticked] off."

  • Paulenich said at the meeting Borough Tax Assessor Therese DePierro is "double-dipping," working in Hopatcong and Dover. Mayor Sylvia Petillo on Monday said it's common for tax assessors work for several towns and that the borough made a contract with DePierro, allowing her to work Mondays through Thursdays in the borough and Fridays in Dover.
  • Paulenich said at the meeting he thought Hopatcong schools Superintendent Dr. Charles Maranzano makes more money than Gov. Chris Christie. Maranzano, according to the 2010-2011 budget posted on the school website, makes $170,000 a year. Christie makes $175,000. Maranzano said Tuesday that though he was eligible for a $3,400 merit-based bonus, he took a pay freeze and wouldn't recieve it.
  • Paulenich said at the meeting Borough Attorney John Ursin was paid "$245 an hour to sit at council meetings." Environmental commission head Jerry Scanlan interjected, saying Ursin was paid $160 a meeting. Ursin said on Monday he's paid $160 per meeting.
  • Paulenich said he'd looked through a list of people holding multiple paid positions in New Jersey. "There's people in this state holding down eight jobs. Eight jobs. The highest one getting paid $320,000 a year. You have to get down to No. 1,200 [in order of salary] to find somebody making less than $175,000 a year." When Elide Young, Councilman John Young's wife, shook her head during Paulenich's remarks Saturday, he said, "Don't be shaking your head. You don't want to be here, get out." Later in the night he apologized to Young before the audience. Paulenich on Monday said he had the second figure wrong—the 250th job on the list makes less than $175,000.

After tax attorney Robert Spiotti and licensed appraiser Raul Mendez talked and answered some questions from the crowd Saturday. Paulenich spoke again. Among his points:

  • Paulenich said the Borough of Hopatcong received $2 million from the federal Recovery Act. The federal government's "Track the Money" website, Recovery.gov, showed the borough received $337,121 while the school district got $1.98 million.
  • Paulenich said it cost Hopatcong about $19,000—"Somewhere in that area. That could be up or down"—to educate a student in 2008. Data released by the state Department of Education shows Hopatcong's schools spent $14,131 per pupil in 2007-2008 and $14,688 in 2008-2009. The 2009-2010 figure was $14,395. For each of those years, Hopatcong spent less than the stage average per pupil.
  • Paulenich quoted Petillo's 2011 reorganization meeting speech, in which she said: "Over the past three years, we have been very successful in acquiring almost $2 million in state and federal grants." Then Paulenich said: "Does everybody know what a grant is? Borrowed money. I'm sorry. It adds to the deficit." Petillo responded Tuesday: "You don't pay grants back. It's not a loan."
  • Paulenich said residents making tax appeals on their own shouldn't let tax assessors into their homes. But Spiotti said they should, or else filing a tax appeal could prove pointless, because a judge could throw it out.
  • Paulenich said Hopatcong hasn't been posting agendas for its mayor and council meetings, typically held on Wednesday, 24 hours in advance. Petillo said that the borough posts agendas on the Friday afternoon before a meeting online, and residents can pick them up at borough hall on Friday afternoons or on Mondays. She said there was one recent exception, when the borough's website experienced technical difficulties leading up to the Feb. 2 meeting.

Reached Monday, Paulenich said he did not always have the most recent figures available to him.

Paulenich said he might consider creating a citizens audit committee.

"What this will allow us to do, as taxpayers, is eliminate some of our waste, mismanagement and possibly fraud that exists. Who knows?" he said.

Councilwoman Madeline McManus, who was in attendance Saturday, told Patch she was "glad a large number of people attended" the meeting.

"They're concerned about their taxes," she said. "They want answers and they should come to the council to get their answers. They should come to the council and ask their questions."

Scanlan said: "I thought it was a good meeting. … It means the town people are out to stress their concern about taxes."

David barella February 16, 2011 at 03:13 AM
Yes I to would like such info! Please let us know when the next meeting is. Thanks Dave
Roll Back Our Tax February 16, 2011 at 01:54 PM
Contact me. I did advertise in LH Weekly week of January 28th and February 4th about the meeting. There's still time to appeal your taxes. Contact me rpaulenich@gmail.com.
Roll Back Our Tax February 16, 2011 at 01:55 PM
Contact me. I did advertise in LH Weekly week of January 28th and February 4th about the meeting. There's still time to appeal your taxes. Contact me rpaulenich@gmail.com.
BeachBum February 16, 2011 at 02:19 PM
Taxes are always a big issue for residents in any town, Hopatcong has many issues one of the biggest is being that their isnt any good business' in town that actually the town can profit from. There needs to be an actual shopping center where residents can grocery shop, "ShopRite" a Quick Check just doesnt cut it. Any time you need to do any real shopping you need to leave town, which is not always easy for most. There are enough auto repair/deli and pizza/Chinese places, not sure what ever happened to the lower River Styx area which is an area which would help the town profit if it is done right. Shared services with Byram would be a smart move and not sure why the town has 3 fire stations, can't one be eliminated? Lakeside Boulevard at River Styx has enough street lights on the pole to light up a small town, this is ridiculous and wasteful, as are the lights on the poles on Hopatchung - The new street lamps will do the same job - eliminate these pole lights mayor.
Roll Back Our Tax February 16, 2011 at 02:30 PM
Dave....I agree with these statements...."Shared services with Byram would be a smart move and not sure why the town has 3 fire stations, can't one be eliminated? Lakeside Boulevard at River Styx has enough street lights on the pole to light up a small town, this is ridiculous and wasteful, as are the lights on the poles on Hopatchung - The new street lamps will do the same job - eliminate these pole lights mayor". I was the one that organized the meeting. You can reach me at rpaulenich@gmail.com
Warren February 16, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Whatever we can do to cut taxes we should do. The fact that we, as citizens, accept that it is normal to have to pay many thousands of dollars per year to own property, is in itself laughable. Our country was founded by a group of people who revolted because they tried to tax tea, and we have degraded to the point where they tax everything we do, including just owning property. We need to change what is considered normal. The issue is not "What can we afford to cut", it is "we are not willing to give you this much money anymore, figure out what you can do with less or get out of the way for someone else."
David barella February 17, 2011 at 01:52 AM
Just wanted to add that the info I was looking for was info on what the meeting was really about! I do not agree or dis-agree with anything posted on this topic as I'm not 100% clear on what the issues may be. Thanks David Barella
Roll Back Our Tax February 17, 2011 at 12:57 PM
Actually those were my opening remarks...." No taxation without representation" is a slogan originating during the 170's and 1760's that summarized a primary grievance of the British colonists in the thirteen colonies which was one of the major causes of the American Revolution. I think we're on the verge of a Revolution....a tax revolution. Less and less money going towards goods and services. More and more money going towards salaries, benefits and retirement. The madness has go to stop!!!! Appeal your taxes now!
Jersey March 03, 2011 at 03:08 PM
I think the above e-mail for the appraiser Raul Mendez is supposed to be raul44@optonline.net. (I think the e-mail address may be spelled incorrectly in the comment above.) Just want to make certain everyone has it right. My e-mail came back and I checked the spelling on the business card to correct it. Best of luck to all.
Warren March 03, 2011 at 03:53 PM
Most attorneys will do this for 33% of first years savings, not 50%.
Roll Back Our Tax March 04, 2011 at 04:03 PM
Everyone on my email list has Raul's email address.
Roll Back Our Tax March 04, 2011 at 04:06 PM
Rob Spiotti is NOT MOST attorney's. He'll fight to get you best tax assessment so you won't have to do this again next year. If you want to go with some one else do so. Thanks for sharing.
Warren March 04, 2011 at 04:14 PM
Hi Randy, I have to be honest with you it's my opinion that when an attorney is charging more than the standard 33%, that should be a huge red flag that something is wrong. Couple that with the suggestion of paying for a appraisal up front and now I'm really on guard. I'm not a lawyer, have no competing interest- this just seems fishy to me. What is Mr. Spiotti going to do for 50% that every other lawyer is not going to do for 33%? I'm pretty sure that my attorney is going to fight to get me the best assessment too...
Roll Back Our Tax March 04, 2011 at 04:19 PM
Warren I have no investment in this. I am just a taxpayer like everyone else. If you think you can do better elsewhere, then by all means do so. But I don't think your comments on line where everyone can see them helps our plight here in Hopatcong. Is anyone else doing anything? Do you have someone else to recommend?
Warren March 04, 2011 at 04:21 PM
I have done better elsewhere. I'm putting my comments online, so that everyone else in the same situation as me can make their own judgements. All, I'm saying is pick up the yellowpages and talk to a few propery tax attorneys. ... you'll learn that the standard contigency fee is 33%. I can't understand paying more than that.
Warren March 04, 2011 at 04:49 PM
For clarity's sake my attorney is asking for 33% of the first years saving, and is picking up the $25 fee to appeal.
Roll Back Our Tax March 05, 2011 at 03:18 PM
The standard fee for most property tax attorneys is 1/3 over a three year period. Many of the established firms that have earned a working relationship with the various towns will charge the total savings in the first year. Rob has worked with condo associations to handle appeals of similar condo units in large (50+) groups at 1/3 of one year because much of the work was overlap. Here, these are individual residential homes that each require a significant amount of work. Further, Sussex County and Hopatcong in particular, is not the easiest place to do this type of work. However, Rob Spiotti does have a very nice working relationship with the assessor and the town attorney and because of that he has been able to secure a meeting to discuss the appeals.
Roll Back Our Tax March 05, 2011 at 03:20 PM
It is critical that everyone understands exactly what they are getting with Tax Attorney Rob Spiotti. First, his firm represents many of the largest taxpayers in State and they have handled many of the most complex appeals. Because of that they have earned a reputation with many towns in New Jersey. He has personally resolved over 2,000 tax appeals in the last four years. It is important to remember that you get what you pay for. This is particularly true when it is very likely that the new assessment will be used for the next 10 years. Further, they are a small firm that treats everyone, regardless of the size, as an equal and important client. This can clearly be seen by many of the Hopatcong residents that have called and spoke to Rob or a trained member of his staff. Try calling another firm with a residential appeal and see how that works out. I absolutely believe that 50% of the first year’s savings is supremely fair for everyone.
Steve Devitis March 14, 2011 at 12:36 PM
Can anyone explain to me why property tax on lakefront homes is about double of non lakefront. What does hopatcong do to maintain the lake? What extra services do we get?
Chrissy May 11, 2011 at 04:31 PM
I think this is wonderful! I also wish there was more public notice of such meetings. I would love to be more involved but it seems I hear about everything after the fact. Kudos to Mr. Paulenich for speaking up and organizing this!
Roll Back Our Tax May 12, 2011 at 01:41 AM
We had (70) residents appeal their taxes this past year. Our attorney Rob Spiotti had a preliminary meeting with the town and it went very well. The town’s expert thought that our appraiser Raul Mendez did a nice job. I think we are going to do very well. We should have a resolution in the next few weeks.
Reason This June 08, 2011 at 09:21 PM
The taxpayer bill of rights establishes your right to clear, non-technical information about tax implications of any situation. My experience has been that the tax assessment process often violates this simple right and that innocent tax payers are forced to use the expensive and time consuing appeals process to fix mistakes made by the towns. The nonsense about being asked to appeal an assessment before you have any idea what impact it will have on your taxes needs to change. The town certainly CAN tell you if your assessed value changed by more than other proerties and hence you will pay a bigger piece of the pie regardless of wehther the actual new tax rate is known yet. Please also make sure you are fully versed with NJ Admin Code Title 18 Chapter 12 as my experience has been that corners get cut and the rules outlined in this chapter in reqards to communication of critical information to taxpayers is not done. This might be due to the fact that often people who work for the towns are spread across other towns and their attention to detail becomes poor. The cost of errors caused by shared services models seems to be falling on tax payers when it should instead by picked up the the town who saved money in the first place with the shared service model. When is the next town meeting? I am not from Hopatcong but I have a keen interest in this process.
Roll Back Our Tax November 17, 2011 at 01:07 PM
I wasn't far off with NEW formula. Under the old math, Hopatcong spent per pupil $13,561 in 2009-2010. But the new formula says Hopatcong spent $17,051 that same year. Paulenich said it cost Hopatcong about $19,000—"Somewhere in that area". http://hopatcong.patch.com/articles/superintendent-new-student-spending-math-double-edged?ncid=following_comment Oh and BTW...Christie doesn't make $175,000/year. That's his cap. He actually makes $157,000/year which is less than what Superintendent Maranzano makes on his salary of $170,000/year for sub par schools. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_much_does_governor_Christie_make
Roll Back Our Tax November 17, 2011 at 11:55 PM
Home values DOWN another 14.2% this year in Hopatcong. Are you appealing your taxes? http://www.zillow.com/local-info/NJ-Hopatcong-home-value/r_52570//?utm_source=email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=emm-111711_NovLocalClaim-zhvi
Michele Guttenberger November 18, 2011 at 12:35 AM
I think it is time for another one of these lectures. I'm sure they will be well attended. Get to be guest speaker for our Town's Senior Citizens . What senior on a fixed income doesn't want to hear how they can reduce their taxes? Plus it's time for a follow up on how successful you were for those that followed this advice at the last lecture. But don't forget the refreshments. . Randy - do you know how to bake cookies? I'll bring the fruit salad. Let's start our own Baby Boomer Citizens to Roll Back Our Taxes Community Group. Let's all meet up a the Senior Center - I hear they got grant money to improve the place.
The Watcher November 18, 2011 at 02:57 AM
Hope this grant doesn't cost as much as the over $83,000 for the streetlights! Still waiting to hear where that money came from. How many more grants can we afford?
Roll Back Our Tax November 18, 2011 at 10:08 AM
Show up at the next Borough Council Meeting in Hopatcong Wednesday December 7th @ 7:30 PM. . http://hopatcong.patch.com/articles/trio-organizes-write-in-campaign?ncid=following_comment http://hopatcong.patch.com/articles/why-should-hopatcong-fix-your-road?ncid=following_comment http://hopatcong.patch.com/articles/short-write-in-campaing-lands-8-of-vote http://hopatcong.patch.com/articles/hopatcong-race-don-t-publish?ncid=following_comment You'll have plenty of company. Agenda will be posted here day before http://www.hopatcong.org/Agenda.php
Roll Back Our Tax November 21, 2011 at 05:44 PM
Here's the site for the municipalities that are ABOVE the 2% property tax cap http://php.app.com/proptaxes11/results.php?COUNTY=%25&MUNICIPALITY=%25&cap=Above&Submit2=Search and BELOW the 2% property tax cap http://php.app.com/proptaxes11/results.php?COUNTY=%25&MUNICIPALITY=%25&cap=Below&Submit2=Search
Roll Back Our Tax March 05, 2012 at 09:16 AM
Whether you agree or disgree DON'T procrastinate. Here's why I held the meeting. http://www.zillow.com/local-info/NJ-Hopatcong/r_52570/ Home prices are falling and taxes keep rising in Hopatcong. In December 2010 alone home prices fell 11.5% compared to December 2009 and continue to fall. Tax Attorney, Robert Spiotti, rspiotti@taxcounsel.com whose website is www.taxcounsel.com. He will be working on a contingency of 50% of 1st year’s tax savings. He can be reached at PH: 973-299-9925 . A Licensed Appraiser, Raul Mendez, raul44@optonline.net, who will be charging a rate of $275 per appraisal. He can be reached at PH: 201-213-9223 . However, you have to file your tax appeal before April 1st, 2011 to qualify.
S. Murray March 08, 2013 at 02:28 PM
What ever happened to this guy? Another one! ALL SMOKE AND MIRRORS! SOME OPPOSITION IN THIS TOWN! LAUGHABLE!

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