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Interactive Map: 2012 Property-Tax Relief Reaches Fewer New Jerseyans

The average payout remains roughly the same, but it is less than half the amount of the average rebate in 2007

It is unknown whether anyone in six municipalities -- Audubon Park, Pine Valley, Tavistock, Teterboro, Walpack and Winfield -- listed as having no credits may have received any, since the Treasury Department withheld information for towns where fewer than 10 people got credits due to privacy concerns.

About 730,000 New Jersey homeowners this month finally received their 2012 property-tax credits, the smallest number getting tax relief in at least the past five years.

Analysis of data from the state Department of Treasury shows the average credit was $473, virtually the same as the first two years of credits given under the Christie administration. But the number of people getting tax credits on their tax bills for 2012 is less than half of those who received what were then Homestead Property Tax Rebates for 2007.

In total, the state provided about $345 million in credits this year for 2012; the administration put off paying them due to budget problems. That amount is about 10 percent less than the 2011 credits, which were paid out in 2013 also because of budgetary issues. It's only about 20 percent of the $1.53 billion distributed in rebate checks for the 2007 year.

The number of people getting a rebate has declined, as well. For 2007, more than 1.5 million people got a check from the state. By 2011, that number had dropped to 806,000. Between 2011 and 2012, the number of recipients dropped another 9 percent.

Although the average rebate has remained stable for the three years for which the Christie administration has issued credits, it is less than half the $1,005 average for 2007.

While the average credit this year was $473, the average by town varied from $132 in Lower Alloways Creek to $848 in Haworth. The amount of credit a homeowner receives differs based on income, the amount of property taxes paid in 2006 -- the year has not been changed since it was set as the base year by former Gov. Jon Corzine -- and whether the person is a senior citizen or disabled. State officials said the average senior got a $515 credit, while other homeowners got an average of $404.

The amount of credits issued by the Christie administration has been a mystery over the past few years, since the Department of Community Affairs not only recently stopped reporting the information but also removed the average rebate amounts from the final few years of Christie's predecessor.

Some Democrats have filed legislation seeking to force the administration to again include the information in its annual property-tax-table release. Traditionally, rebate information was included in a spreadsheet of the average residential property tax bills and was subtracted from the average bill to come up with a net tax, because it is considered property-tax relief.

DCA officials contend that such a comparison is invalid because not every homeowner receives a credit. "The Average NJ Saver Rebate reflects the property-tax averages only for households that had received the Homestead Rebate Tax Credit -- not all homeowners received this rebate. Therefore, this rebate should not be used to define the average tax bill," said Tammori Petty, a DCA spokeswoman.

That's a view shared by Marc Pfeiffer, former deputy director of the state Division of Local Government Services and the assistant director of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers University.

"When the most recent program started with (former Gov.) Christie Whitman in the late 90s, everyone got one," he said, referring to the rebates. "Over time the program changed. The Democrats were more progressive about it. The number of recipients changed."

The program actually dates back to former Gov. Brendan Byrne, who initiated it in the 1970s in an effort to quell citizen anger at the adoption of an income tax. It has been through numerous revisions in the years since.

Corzine had added an income cap, so that homeowners with the highest incomes were no longer eligible. Christie capped it further and excluded renters. For 2007, when the amount given was at its peak, the number of rebates issued represented about 61 percent of the total number of residential property owners. For 2012, that percentage was around 29 percent.

Last year, the average New Jersey homeowner paid $8,161 in property taxes.

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