Friday, January 4, 2013

Flemington lowers assessment of Liberty Village Premium Outlets

By John Sievers-

Flemington officials unanimously approved a tax appeal settlement with the Liberty Village Premium Outlets that will result in the outlet center paying $159,275 less per year in taxes.

Borough tax assessor Ed Kerwin said the agreement calls for the outlet properties to be assessed at $18.3 million for 2013, in exchange for the outlet center dropping its 2012 tax appeal lawsuit. Kerwin said the assessment would be re-evaluated for 2014.

Kerwin said he was planning to lower the assessment by $3 million in 2013 anyway as the center is almost 25 percent vacant. He said outlet center officials initially offered a settlement figure of $15 million before the tax assessor made a counteroffer.

“I recommend that Borough Council seriously consider this settlement,” Kerwin said during a council meeting Friday.

The Simon Property Group, owners of the outlet center, dropped its appeal of the 2012 tax assessment, totaling nearly $24.2 million, in exchange for the $5.86 million in reduced assessment value in 2013. The difference amounts to $54,000 in lost annual revenue for the borough. Outlet center officials had already paid 2012 taxes.

Kerwin said Flemington is an annual reassessment district, meaning properties could be reassessed every year. Therefore, borough officials could revisit the lowered assessment in a year and see if situation at Liberty Village changes.

Kerwin said if the matter went to trial, Liberty Village officials would continue to file tax appeals until the case was tried, which could take years. The amount the borough would pay, should it lose, could also rise depending on when the trial starts.

“Do we risk a major hit to the taxpayer fighting this or do we accept this?” Councilman Phil Velella asked. “We could be looking at a half-million dollars or more when this is said and done” if the borough lost a trial.

Mayor Erica Edwards said it is conceivable the borough has the flexibility to cut the 2013 budget in other places to make up for the shortfall since the loss is known.

“I don’t see what other options you have,” Councilman Brian Swingle said.

At a Dec. 10 meeting, Kerwin said municipalities “don’t really win” these kinds of trials.

Kerwin also said outlet center officials have been having some difficulties finding new tenants and the facility is not making money. However, Liberty Village is under new management and is trying a new recruiting strategy, Flemington officials have said.

Resident Lois Stewart wondered why the borough couldn’t designate Liberty Village as an area of redevelopment, and resident Chris Englehart wondered what future plans for the area might hold.

“In view of the state of the economy and the obvious issues that are raised by their interactions with Mr. Kerwin, I think we need to take a serious look at what’s going on over there and consider what the future is and how we may need to plan for the future for that site,” Edwards said Friday. “I’d prefer not to discuss specifics on the record tonight.”

Edwards added she has had preliminary discussions with the borough planner that need to continue before any specifics would be made public. She said that could happen sometime within the first six months of 2013.

Borough council also voted to appoint alternative legal counsel, as normal legal counsel has a pre-existing relationship with the representatives of Liberty Village.

No comments:

Post a Comment