West Deptford Democrats added fuel to the fire in the debate over whether the settlements with Sunoco and Coastal/El Paso over longstanding property tax disputes over the are a fair deal, citing a difference of more than $2.5 billion dollars in the appraised worth of the property and what the settlement spells out as its value.
And that’s just for the Sunoco years.
The Democrats released the appraisal figures, which they said they had to acquire via an Open Public Record Act filing, as part of a letter mailed out to township residents—the same figures are below—which attacked the Republicans for what Committeewomen Denice DiCarlo and Donna Szymborski called a rushed deal.
While the property tax refund agreed to in the settlement is close to what the two Democrats said would be acceptable, they said the low-balled property value and the $2.55 million tax bill it brings for Sunoco—a figure DiCarlo said Sunoco floated to get the assessment where it wanted—is a bad move in the long term.
“That’s just leaving a lot of money on the table,” DiCarlo said.
While DiCarlo said she has no desire to see either the Sunoco or Coastal/El Paso cases end up in court, she said more work is left to get the settlements to the point where they’re the best deal.
“I think there’s a way we can make this happen,” she said. “We have to fight harder for the taxpayers—this is a lot of money.”
The Coastal/El Paso settlement, which the Democrats said had effectively been rammed through on the back of the Sunoco deal, presents its own set of challenges, not least because of the lack of supporting documentation, DiCarlo said.
While Sunoco’s challenge to their property taxes involved an encyclopedic case folder the size of a Manhattan phone book, the Coastal/El Paso documentation added up to a few spreadsheets on four pieces of paper.
“I just don’t know how you get there,” she said.
Besides the value of the two settlements, DiCarlo criticized the way the Republicans have structured the financing to try to minimize the up-front tax hit, which she said could add between $2 and $3 million to the cost of the deal because it’s such a long-term debt.
"They just want to look at tax impact," DiCarlo said.
The two Democrats were joined in their criticism by State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who weighed in the deal via a letter to the editor published in the Gloucester County Times, which savaged the Republicans’ move to settle.
“A decision to refund $32 million to oil companies that have turned their backs on West Deptford should involve all key stakeholders, not just a rookie mayor and committeeman going up against seasoned corporate experts at tax negotiations,” Sweeney wrote. “I am sorry to say that (Ray) Chintall and (Sam) Cianfarini allowed West Deptford taxpayers to have their pockets picked in a big way.”
But the Republicans slammed the release of what they claimed was privileged information, while at the same time defending the settlement.
In a letter released at the end of last week, Mayor Ray Chintall, Deputy Mayor Sean Kilpatrick and Committeeman Sam Cianfarini claimed the appraisal values are sensitive information that potentially damages the township’s legal strategy, should the matters end up in court
“This is not in the best interest of the people of West Deptford,” they wrote.
And while the appraisals show a much higher value than the settlement, the Republicans said those values don’t reflect the reality of the situation, and cited tax court Judge Joseph C. Small’s assertion that prior sale prices could determine the value of the refinery.
With that in mind, the Republicans pointed to the fact that the settlement establishes values for Eagle Point well above its 2004 sale price of $111 million.
Republican township committee candidate Jeff Hansen, meanwhile, called into question combined donations totaling more than $30,000 to the Democrats from the two firms representing both sides in the case—Archer and Greiner, which has represented Sunoco in the appeals, and Nowell Amoroso Klein Bierman, which represents the township.
Hansen suggested the Democrats have an interest in stretching out the appeals, given there are potentially donations rolling in from the two groups of attorneys as long as it continues—Archer and Greiner donated last year, part of a massive fundraising effort by the Democrats, though David Nowell’s last donation to the Democratic executive committee came in October 2010, according to reports filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission.
“It’s a big conflict of interest,” Hansen said.
But DiCarlo dismissed that idea, noting her campaign received no money directly from Nowell Amoroso Klein Bierman, and questioned whether that presented a double standard.
“If it’s a conflict of interest, does that mean (the Republicans) can’t work with the insurance brokers?” she said.
Beyond just the contributions, DiCarlo noted her dissatisfaction with the special counsel for tax appeals from Nowell Amoroso Klein Bierman.
“I’ve made it very clear that I don’t think John Lloyd’s been doing a great job,” she said.Appraised value (millions) Settlement value (millions) Difference (millions) 2004 $225 $134 $91 2005 $300 $134 $166 2006 $530 $128 $402 2007 $700 $126 $574 2008 $770 $121 $649 2009 $575 $122 $453 2010 $375 $124 $251 Total $3,475 $889 $2,586