ORTLEY BEACH - Could a three-bedroom home on the Jersey Shore be worth just $30,000? That's what one community is claiming, a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds, and it could cost homeowners big money.
The problem stems from new flood rules taking effect in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. According to FEMA, anyone whose home was more than 50 percent destroyed could have to pay to elevate their home as much as 14 feet. But homeowners in the Ortley Beach section of Toms River say the township is twisting those rules to apply to almost everyone.
Take homeowners Marsha and Tony Averso. They have to replace drywall and flooring because of water damage, but say the repairs will cost a fraction of what their three-bedroom house is worth. But according to the town, the home is worth just $30,000, so the Aversos will have to raise it at least 6 feet in order to live there again. The home next door is valued even lower, at $25,000. That's because the town is basing the decision on the "Improved Land Value" found on property tax bills.
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"That figure is for tax purposes, it's not fair market value," Marsha Averso says. "You can't even build a garage for $30,000."
Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher admits it's unlikely any home on Ortley Beach is worth so little, but insists the system is "as fair as it's going to get." He says homeowners have the right to challenge the assessed valuation. But homeowners who do could wind up with huge property tax increases, because taxes would be based on the new assessed value. "If you're looking for a right answer, I don't have one," Kelaher says.
The Aversos say the right answer is simple: Base flood map decisions on actual home values, but leave the tax assessment alone.