Bipartisan legislation that would exempt flood-prone properties acquired by municipalities from county, school and fire district property taxes for the following tax year, was approved by the full Assembly on Monday.
The bill is sponsored on the Democratic side by Assembly members Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Timothy Eustace and Connie Wagner and on the Republican side by Holly Schepisi and Jack Ciattarelli. Under the current law, if a municipality acquires any flood-prone properties after October 1, it must pay the county, school, and fire district property taxes owed for all or the remainder of the following tax year.
Stating that this bill is a sensible way to help beleaguered homeowners and cash-strapped municipalities, Vainieri-Huttle said that towns should not be left on the hook to pay county and school taxes for a home that is no longer bringing in property taxes because of a delay in processing.
"The homes at issue are being purchased by Blue Acres funds because of constant flooding and they are now coming off the tax rolls," said Vainieri Huttle.
Schepisi said that the flooding caused by Superstorm Sandy last year and the devastation witnessed in 2011 by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee has increased the awareness of towns that continuously deal with this flooding problem.
"Experience has taught us that once-in-a-generation storms are occurring more frequently and proper planning is needed to account for that possibility in order to limit the impact,” Schepisi said.
Wagner said that in the wake of Sandy, the acquisition of flood-prone properties is a priority for the State. "With towns already being squeezed hard due to post-Sandy recovery costs, this will help ease some of the burden for them," she said.
Established in 1995, the Blue Acres program is a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection program within the Green Acres program that funds the purchase of properties in flood-prone residential areas. Land is only purchased through the Blue Acres program if the owner is a willing seller.
Municipalities receive grants for acquiring flood-prone property for open space and conservation purposes under the Blue Acres Program. In May, New Milford was awarded $403,075 in state Blue Acres Fund to assist with the acquisition of five homes affected by repetitive flooding.
After a municipality acquires the property, it must be cleared of any homes or structures and returned to open space.