The Asbury Park Press reports:
Meet P.G. Waxman, now one of the most powerful people in Ocean County.
Last month, 50-year-old Waxman, owner of Waxman Realty in Lakewood, became the only remaining commissioner on the county Board of Taxation, a quasi-judicial panel responsible for hearing tax appeals from property owners who dispute the revaluations or assessments made in their towns.
Appointments to the seven-member board are made by the governor and require confirmation of the state Senate Judiciary Committee.
But for various political reasons that are not discussed publicly – privately, Republicans blame Democrats, and Democrats blame Republicans – no one has assumed a seat on the board in more than two years. Thus the panel has been getting smaller and smaller until the board was whittled down to two members last year.
But when Commissioner Tony Graziano resigned a month ago, he left his colleague to preside over what is expected to be 11,000 tax appeals this year. Now Waxman sits alone – a quorum of one.
On Wednesday, Waxman took his seat on the dais at town hall in Toms River to convene his first meeting by himself, complete with a name plate that identified him as president of the phantom board.
“Before I begin, I just want to note that the Ocean County Board of Taxation only has – I am the lone member, the sole member of the board,” Waxman told a mix of municipal tax assessors and aggrieved homeowners in the audience, a few clutching the notices they had received in the mail that in some cases more than tripled the assessment on their homes. “It is a very unusual situation, and we are awaiting direction from the state in terms of what exactly we can do, should do . . . until we get more board members.”
After addressing some pressing administrative matters to demonstrate how absurd the situation was, Waxman announced he was going into executive session – alone.
Carol Benson, 67, of Toms River, who appeared to teeter between visible expressions of puzzlement and outrage leaped to her feet.
“He’s going into closed session to talk to himself?” Benson called out. “He’s going to go in there to talk to himself?”
Her mouth agape, Benson was now scanning the faces in the room as if to see if she was the only one present who had not taken leave of their senses.
“That’s what he just said,” L. Ozzie Vituscka, the county tax administrator, replied in a deadpan voice.
“Why?” Benson demanded before she turned to two other property owners and said. “God . . . Let’s get the heck out of here! Unbelievable! Absolutely unbelievable!”
Waxman emerged from behind closed doors a short time later and announced that he wanted to demonstrate the absurdity of the situation on what was appropriately April Fool’s Day. Then without missing a beat, he made a point of whispering to a reporter that he would never talk to himself, for to do so would violate the Sunshine Law.
Taking a more serious tone, Waxman described the situation as dire and has called on the governor’s office, state legislators and the county Board of Freeholders for help.
“There is an old German saying. . .” Waxman began, in that language before translating to English: “. . . If the child were not mine, I would laugh.
“I’m very disappointed to find myself in this position as the lone remaining member of the board that should have five or seven members. Obviously, I cannot function as the entire board, especially in the face of the phenomenal amount of tax appeals filed this year,” he said.
Waxman, who earns an annual salary of $22,125 for his service and puts in a total of 14 hours each day between his public office and real estate business, said his sense of civic duty has kept him from quitting, as well as loyalty to the board’s professional staff.
Vituscka said Waxman has turned what was to be a part-time government appointment into a full-time public office in an act of remarkable selflessness.
“I’ve called people in Trenton, in the governor’s office for appointments, I’ve written letters to the (governor’s) chief of staff, I’ve called senators myself to stimulate the appointment process,” Vituscka said. “Everybody has been helpful . . . We don’t know where (the problem) starts. We can’t do any more than we’ve done to try and get appointments here. The problem is, now we are literally in an emergency situation, and when I tell you we expect 11,000 appeals (this year), I am not kidding at all.”
Well, Toms River residents aren’t laughing either.
Gina Crepezzi, 52, and Sylvia Schachne, 81, came to the meeting Wednesday upset about their property assessments and left infuriated at the very system they pay taxes to support.
“I’m on 0.407 acres, OK?” Crepezzi said. “I’m assessed at $177,000 for my land. My neighbor is on 2.8 acres. . . . He was assessed $210,000 on his land. He’s right next to me . . . That doesn’t work. You can’t make a rhyme or a reason out of it. There is no logic to it. . . . I think the bottom line is, we’re all very frustrated, and we can’t get any answers, any logic, at all.”
Schachne was equally frustrated.
“My land last year was $20,000; this year it’s $65,000,” Schachne said. “I live in a condominium. With the land and the building, my home went up from $82,000 to $256,700. I’m trying to find out how they came up with that assessment and I can’t.”
On Thursday, Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s office said in an e-mail that he was committed to filling board vacancies.
“Potential judicial nominees go through an intense vetting process to ensure the best candidates are selected,” the e-mail from Press Secretary Robert Corrales said. “Potential nominees need to pass through the Senate Judicial Committee in order to be confirmed.”
Corzine last made appointments to the board Oct. 6, when Waxman and Graziano were reappointed and tax appraiser Henry J. Mancini of Henry J. Mancini & Associates Inc. of Stafford was appointed for the first time to the board.
Calling the matter “a crisis,” Freeholder Director John C. Bartlett Jr. said he received assurances as late as Thursday that the matter is being resolved after meeting with Waxman on Wednesday.
In the meantime, the state Office of the Attorney General has informed Waxman that he can hear appeals and can continue to convene meetings to administer over board affairs, but he is prohibited from passing judgment on appeals.
“Apparently, the message has gotten through that the Ocean County Board of Taxation is out of commission at this time,” Bartlett said.