School Resource Officer Controversy, Tax Reassessment Fight: Only in Moorestown

Our columnist gives her take on a busy week in Moorestown news, from the SRO issue to a reassessment battle over the town's (and the state's) largest home.

Even though I love my job at the library, I am always happy when Friday comes and goes, leaving me with several days of less structure and more junk food. And how delightful to wake up on Saturday morning to a blanket of snow! Who doesn’t love a good "snow event"? I was almost envious, texting with my younger son who is hiding out in his dorm room in Boston. Two feet of snow is an invitation to partake in Hot Pockets and sloth—two of his favorite things!

After spending three years in Southern California, we moved back to New Jersey in 1994, specifically to East Oak Avenue, where we rented a home recently vacated by Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams. We had missed the ice storms that plagued Moorestown for several winters, but were there for the snow event that dumped close to 30 inches on our town, stranding two toddlers, Elvis the dog, and me while the husband was doing a show in Las Vegas. It wasn’t my husband’s fault he couldn’t be there with us; he was working after all. But I was so mad you could have fried an egg on my forehead, if you like that sort of visual.

This storm marked the beginning of my bad back, as I struggled to dig us out of the very heavy white stuff that blanketed Moorestown. When the Rev. Jonathan Miller and one of his wonderful daughters came out to help me finish the job, I almost wept and became a Presbyterian, I was so overheated and overjoyed.

Later that same week, the temperatures soared and all 30 inches of snow melted and filled our rented basement like a cement wading pool, ruining all the still-packed boxes stacked on the floor. It was sort of a mixed blessing, since I was able to get rid of unnecessary stuff AND occupy the boys at the same time. I slapped boots on them and we sloshed around down there, waiting for the next deluge.

This past Friday afternoon saw a mad, pre-storm rush hit Wegmans. I saw a woman with eight gallons of water in her shopping cart, along with some leeks and a rasher of bacon. I wanted to gently grab her sleeve and say, “M’aam, I have six gallons of water left over from Sandy. Come on over and let’s make a deal.”

People were scurrying around, grim-faced, cramming as many staples in their carts as they could. But one person’s staple is another person’s not-so-staple. Eggs? A necessity. Tastykakes? Not so much. Still, you have to lay in treats when anticipating a snow event. I searched in vain for some dark chocolate M&M's, but apparently other Mo’towners had wiped out this particular staple earlier in the day, forcing me to settle for 70 percent cacao nonpareils, a much more expensive alternative. 

I’ve been following the story about School Resource Officer (SRO) Bryan Wright all week. The story broke on Patch on Tuesday, with a follow-up story on Saturday. It was initially reported that Officer Wright was being replaced as the SRO, after 13years on the job at the high school. Officer Wright is a beloved figure. The students like him, the faculty like him, and it looks like more than 1,300 citizens like him and are outraged any such decision would be made without first consulting them. How dare the higher-ups in the police department make such an audacious, exclusionary decision?

An online petition belies the town’s outrage, as parents continue to support Officer Wright. Officer Wright has allegedly spoken to unnamed sources who report that he doesn’t seem to want to leave. Well, duh! In this day and age, it is a luxury to stay at a job for five years, let alone 13, but has anyone considered that the police department might have some very good reasons for wanting to change up the SRO position at the high school after 13 years?

It’s all moot now, since Saturday’s story reported that the township has put their plan to replace Wright on hold while it tries to make every single person in Moorestown happy with future decision(s). So, while township manager Scott Carew works with the school district and the police department to create a new “shared services agreement,” Wright will continue patrolling the halls of the high school while all the relieved parents go back to Pilates, chauffeuring and obsessing about SAT scores. Another crisis averted—for now.

With the deadline to review our tax reassessments approaching (Feb. 12), Mo’towners who read the Philadelphia Inquirer last week were treated to a story about one of Mo’town’s finest who is fighting a tax reassessment. How exciting to see Vernon Hill’s mega-palace (dwarfing South Valley School) on the front page of the paper! It was also pretty groovy to find out that La Vern and Shirley paid $394,000 in property taxes last year. I think that story was printed just to make us feel good about the “paltry” amount we pay. Ten thousand dollars a year? What’s that compared to $394,000?

We were treated to a new definition of what it means to be a patriot by the Hill’s mouthpiece, attorney Steven Irwin of West Orange, NJ. First he informed the reading public that, were Villa Collina to go on the market, there would be no value to the Hill’s homage to overindulgence because “Philadelphia-area millionaires opt for the Pennsylvania suburbs and most East Coast rock stars and Wall Street wizards choose to live close to New York.” He then went on to say, “The whole theory of this case is that the property was tremendously overbuilt for where it was situated.” YA THINK?

While most of us do not have a “Lemon Room” that contains a variety of lemon trees or an entrance foyer with marble floors, attorney Irwin reminds us, “Rich people have the same rights as everyone else.” What a relief! So, the next time you decide to buy 44 acres here in town and build a monument to excess, remember Mr. Irwin’s NEW definition of what it means to be a patriot: Build your uber abode so it is a few square feet smaller than the White House. That, in 2013, is the essence of what it means to be a patriot.

Only in Mo’town, my friends!

Ross Chatham February 11, 2013 at 02:02 PM
Eggs are a perishable food...
M'town Truth February 11, 2013 at 02:14 PM
yeah... but not so much. Even when not refrigerated eggs can last for weeks. If you dip them in paraffin, they can last for a couple of months without being refrigerated. I've done it, when living on a boat. If you refrigerate them, eggs can easily last for 6 months. There's a lot of fear-mongering around eggs.
Ann DiBlasio February 11, 2013 at 02:36 PM
Marsia, I love the comments that your column always generates.
JustWondering February 11, 2013 at 03:23 PM
Great stuff, Marsia!
Townie February 11, 2013 at 04:04 PM
Rollie....who should be thanking whom? If Mr. Coleman wasn't an idiot (I'm willing to color our tax assessor, board, and anyone else who was possibly involved in this same brush), Mr. and Mrs. Hill would be paying an additional $220k / year on their home! They should be thanking me (and every resident in town) for paying $150 of their taxes between 2008 and now. $400k a year is crazy....but so is 50,000 square feet! You and I pay our taxes based on the value of our home...but the Hill's only pay on 2/3rd's of theirs. If you can't pay the taxes...move. Back to Coleman...what complete moron doesn't counter-sue? How do you hold all of the risk without spinning ANY of it back onto Vernon? He was assessed at $22M and argued for less. The Hill's had all upside? Coleman's answer "we just wanted to protect our assessors valuation" is absolutely criminal. Our real estate taxes in this town are a joke....not because they're high, but because it is fantasyland. DeKlerk and ASI should be held to account for this as well.
Diana February 11, 2013 at 04:25 PM
Thank you????? His wife stiffed my husband for thousands when he set up a job for her at a national trade show. He is the lowest of the low.
Conrad Tubbs February 11, 2013 at 04:44 PM
Mr. Townie: the article says that the home only 'has 29,236 square feet of living space' - I added 'only' tongue in cheek but the number is not 55,000. You say they should be paying more. Everyone should pay based on the market value of their home and not some fly by night appraisal firm's work. It's that simple. Look at the data on the ASI site and you will see appraised value after appraised value lower than the recent sale price. If a sale price isn't market than what is? You are right everyone is paying for this mistake and all the other mistakes; the same way we have been paying for the last 5 years. The common denominator is that ASI and the assessor are both involved.
Rollie A Mason February 11, 2013 at 05:18 PM
How can Hill's house which is smaller than the new municipal complex being built for $11,000,000 be assessed for more? We call complain its not enough all we want but anyone paying $400K or whatever a year is subsidizing our services and for that I say thanks!
Townie February 11, 2013 at 05:48 PM
From the decision....The residence, constructed in 2002, is grand, has an estate-like appearance, and incorporates a total of 55,543 square feet of improvements. Interesting read.... http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/taxcourt/tax_unpublished/009783-2008.Opinion.pdf
Townie February 11, 2013 at 05:55 PM
The Hills spent $29,114,452 on the property...it's wealth you obviously can't imagine (along with the tax assessors). They spent more on landscaping than nearly every other house in town is worth! FROM THE DECISION: Plaintiffs’ expert calculated the reproduction cost of the subject property using actual construction costs provided by the taxpayers. Of the total $29,114,452 in actual costs, the expert subtracted $3,276,848 attributable to personal property. Net improvement costs were, therefore, $25,837,604 ($29,114,452 - $3,276,848 = $25,837,604). An additional $3,300,000 attributable to landscaping and the construction of the reflecting pools was subtracted from the improvement costs, leaving a cost of $22,537,604 attributable to the residence ($25,837,604 - $3,300,000 = $22,537,604). You and I put in a pool and our taxes reflect it. They built a little bit of Versailles...and should accordingly pay their fair share.
Conrad Tubbs February 11, 2013 at 06:05 PM
That is an interesting read. Still living space and improvements are not the same. Lots of houses have large (it's all relative now) unfinished basements that don't count in liveable space. The issue remains that values all over are not reflective of market and that remains the problem. Did Hill's assessment go up because of the reassessment to correct the mistake the tax court ruled on?
Patricia White February 11, 2013 at 06:31 PM
Conrad Tubbs: You ask a good question in your last sentence. I looked at the list from Appraisal Systems and this address is skipped (see page 70 under residential assessments).
Townie February 11, 2013 at 06:51 PM
Page 52. 2012 = 19,691,000 2013 = 17,270,700 The result is an increase of 10k. IMO That is completely a made up number to try and keep the Hills in line. If the $32M is right, and let's give the Hills a break and assume the house is now worth 80% of that, on 25.6M they are projected to receive a $202,000 tax break from ASI. That's per year. Conrad....ASI has 24,186 as the space.
life time resident February 11, 2013 at 07:09 PM
Townie, have you looked at the tax rates for other towns? Please tell me in what your your home would have a similar value, but lower taxes.
life time resident February 11, 2013 at 07:11 PM
sorry...I meant in what town would your home would have a similar value, but lower taxes.
MotownFan February 11, 2013 at 07:20 PM
Why is your humor so mean? You made a joke out of something that was important to a lot of people and further insulted the people who cared enough to pause long enough to consider other people's feelings. You really should be ashamed of yourself.
Townie February 11, 2013 at 07:28 PM
Nowhere around here....the same priced home in any town around would pay more than a house in Moorestown. Of course, that's normalized in the taxes, as a $500k house here is $350k in Mt. laurel...and they both pay roughly the same (in theory...that's not based on math). If you want to consider value, the Hills benefit from the higher values in town. If the lived in Mt. laurel (or Hainesport, or another town), their opulence would still be worth near what it is in town, and they would bear even a larger burden relative to their neighbors. The relative cost of taxes is killing other towns, and will slowly make its way to us just before all of the realty in NJ is worthless.
Conrad Tubbs February 11, 2013 at 07:34 PM
What is the relevance of the tax rate to the discussion about having accurate market values for fairness? If the values are wrong, people are paying the wrong tax regardless of how it compares to other towns. Focus
eeeeeee eeeeeeeeeee Lewith February 11, 2013 at 08:00 PM
Motown Fan - Great question. When I read the column, I was struggling to find the word or words to describe it. I think "mean" is spot on. Since Marsia is an oft featured columnist, I do read most of her stories. When she's commenting on issues outside of Moorestown, her work can be pretty good (even when I don't agree). But, when she is commenting on events in town, she has a tendency to wag her finger at the rest of us as though she is somehow superior and talk down to us as though we are all idiots. Also, there is often some condescension in her tone and content. Some examples from this column: "... all the relieved parents go back to Pilates, chauffeuring and obsessing about SAT scores," What's the implication here; if you're not a working woman you must be shallow? What is this about and how does it have anything to do with the SRO debate? Mean! "La Vern and Shirley" Wow. Do you even know the Hills? Pretty disrespectful if you ask me. Mean! I do wish the Patch would look for other columnists. I'm not going to lie and say I won't read any more of her columns - basically I'm a Patch-addict and will read most of the stories. But, I would be a lot happier with an opinion column that is not so regularly nasty and a columnist who uses information and reason to form her opinions and doesn't need to rely on weak attempts at being "clever" to justify her on line presence.
Doggoneit February 11, 2013 at 08:24 PM
The purported columnist is quick to attack the Hills and others yet failed to disclose that she is saving 10% on her new tax bill. Could it be that the stench/mold of the library has sickened her. Keeping Brian as the SRO wasn't about saving his job. He will have one either way. It was about making sure the right individual has the SRO job for all the right reasons and not political ones. And yes, we do have every right to know about a change like this and be involved because there is a right way and wrong way to handle change. We are relieved that Scott Carew got the message and stepped in to do the right thing. Marsia, consider signing up for Live Civilly!
Townie February 11, 2013 at 08:49 PM
I'll be the first one to agree Marsia seems to revel in a sort of elitist cloud one rarely finds outside of academia, but her re-assessment has nothing to do with the Hills arguing in court for a $10M reduction...only to be told they are actually under valued by that amount.
Janet Murray February 11, 2013 at 09:36 PM
Marsia! Marsia! Marsia! You crack me up because I can laugh at myself, you got it right except I don't do Pilates. Keep your columns provocative and I'll keep reading.
Terry Testa February 11, 2013 at 09:46 PM
I agree with the comments above about Marsia. I am okay with snarky. What I don't like is hypocrisy. She cried foul when Council wouldn't "listen" to the Open Space crowd but now us snooty moms don't have the right to speak up where our children are concerned. Hypocrisy. I wonder if Marsia would get 1,300 signatures if the Patch decided to replace her.
Joe February 12, 2013 at 02:21 PM
This is the narrow minded person who thinks all high school athletes are bullies.
SteveS February 12, 2013 at 05:20 PM
Marsia and I probably disagree on many things but I'd be the first to sign that petition.
Soccer Mom February 12, 2013 at 05:30 PM
I would be write behind you. Did you support Brian's petition
SteveS February 12, 2013 at 07:28 PM
I support people's right to voice their opinion on any topic especially when they believe their children's safety is at stake. It's nice to live in a town where people can be so passionate on an issue that 1,200 signatures can be gathered in less then a week. Personally, I have faith in the people that we pay to keep our children safe at school, so who ever is the SRO doesn't really matter to me as long as they are quailified.
Soccer Mom February 12, 2013 at 08:08 PM
Who can argue with that? except you said you would sign Marsia's petition and it sounds like you didn't sign Brian's. Why?
MotownFan February 13, 2013 at 01:45 AM
You can make fun of yourself all you want but making fun of others is mean.
Carla McIlmail February 17, 2013 at 01:44 PM
Marsia, I signed the on-line petition and then went to work. Does that upset anyone? I wanted the officer to stay because he knows the kids... Groups... Clicks.... And trouble spots. I am comfortable with his experience and knowledge. Since the police department gave us no true reason for replacement, I want an officer who "knows his beat" and my kid. As far as the Hill go... I should be so lucky! I wonder what the attorney costs for this battle will be! When it comes to you being mean, I often find when people do not like what I say they call it mean.... Human nature I guess.


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