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Gloucestercitynews.net--Mendham Township --Kevin Corbett, a Murphy administration official who runs NJ Transit receives a huge break on his property taxes in Mendham Township because he raises sheep. Corbet ears $281,000 a year and pays $900 on his 5.5 acre property under New Jersey’s Farmland Assessment Act. Guest opinion

“Corbett shows that it’s not how you farm land, it’s how you farm the government. He is one of many who have abused the Farmland Assessment Act. Wealthy people avoid paying their fair share of property taxes that fall on other people to pay. This is another form of subsidizing wealth land owners at the expense of everyone else. Corbett makes $900 a year selling wool and saves almost $20,000 on his property taxes. It’s a fake farm and his income does not meet criteria of the law,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. The fact that he is cutting corners and playing games on his taxes shows why NJ Transit is such a mess. When Corbett doesn’t pay, everyone else does.”

Criticism of farmers taking advantage of reduction in their property taxes has happened before. Rep. Jon Runyan defended paying less than $500 in property taxes on 20 of his 25 acres because he sold firewood and grazed donkeys. Rep. Scott Garrett faced calls for investigation because he saved $41,000 annually due to a Christmas tree farm run by his brother. Donald Trump saves $88,000 a year on local property taxes on a portion of his luxury Bedminster golf course because of eight goats he maintains.

“Abusing the farmland program has its precedent. From Whitman who got away with tax reductions for selling firewood to friends and family to Trump who saved close to $100,000 on his property taxes in Bedminster for maintaining 8 goats. New Jersey still needs to reform its farmland assessment program. There are businesses, developers, celebrities, and  politicians who have been taking advantage of this program for decades. This is extremely unfair because when they don’t pay, the rest of us do. It means more pressure for ratables because some aren’t paying their fair share of property tax,”said Tittel.

The most significant change the Farmland Assessment 2013 law made in the farmland assessment program was to increase the amount of agriculture-related income a property had to receive from $500 to $1,000 on the first five acres of land in order to get a generous tax break: Qualified farmland is assessed at just a fraction of the property taxes levied on other land. That change took effect in 2015, but was not reflected until the most recent state Division of Taxation farmland assessment report, for the 2016 fiscal year.

“New Jersey’s farmland assessment still allows for fake farms. The assessment still too often benefits those who are not really farmers — the corporations and land speculators — at the expense of others in a given municipality or county. In order for people like Corbett and others who have been hiding under their fake farms to pay their property taxes, the state legislature needs to strengthen the law. Many properties that are not primarily farms are still receiving the farmland assessment benefit. The changes in the assessment we said were weak and this proves how weak it really is,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. 

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