Governor Murphy on April 28, 2020, signed Executive Order No. 130, that allows municipalities to extend the grace period for property tax payments due on May 1st to June 1st. Such an extension would provide much-needed relief to homeowners struggling financially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Highland Park last week already announced its intention to do something very similar that would not have required the state’s permission.
“Allowing municipalities the option of extending the grace period for May property tax payments is the right thing to do as many New Jerseyans are impacted financially as a result of this crisis,” said Governor Murphy. “Leaders of towns and cities across the state have been trying to find ways to lessen the blow on local residents, and with this action, they are empowered to provide relief to homeowners as we continue to do everything possible to fight this pandemic.”
Under existing law, towns may only allow for a grace period of up to 10 days after the property tax deadline without interest or penalty. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the law was amended to allow towns that have experienced a flood, hurricane, superstorm, tornado or other natural disaster to extend the grace period for up to a month in certain circumstances. There is currently no mechanism in the law to allow municipalities to extend the grace period as a result of a public health-related emergency. Executive Order No. 130 allows towns to extend the grace period for property tax payments due on May 1st to June 1st, that will enable homeowners to pay their taxes a month after they are due without incurring any interest costs or penalties.
But Highland Park, along with its neighbors Metuchen and Edison, got together and cleverly figured out a way that would have almost accomplished the same thing as the governor’s executive order.
The Mayors of Edison, Highland Park, and Metuchen were about to bring legislation to their Councils that would have drastically lowered the interest rate on late property tax payments to .000001 percent, thus extending the grace period for the second quarter tax payment to May 29th with negligible interest. The governor’s executive order allows no interest rate with the deadline being June1.
“I’m continuously shaken by all the cascading effects of this pandemic – overtaxed health care facilities, layoffs and furloughs, closed store fronts, and rising ranks of residents who are justifiably anxious about their futures,” said Gayle Brill Mittler, Mayor of Highland Park. “The temporary lowering of the interest rate for late payments is a gesture of solidarity and support and to say… we care.”
At a budget workshop meeting on April 29, the HP Council was to consider the details of a property tax relief measure, but either way – the HP original proposal or the governor’s proposal, the taxpayers will be getting a much-needed reprieve.