Thursday, May 9, 2013

In Hackensack, our property tax dollars simply disappear

The City of Hackensack gives residents who pay property taxes a 10-day grace period. Independent City Council candidate Victor E. Sasson paid his 2nd-quarter taxes on Tuesday, depositing a check for $3,953 in a lock box behind City Hall, below.

What will Sasson get for his money? Paved streets? Fewer insider deals? Not if residents remain cool to voting in Tuesday's City Council election, as they have in the past, ensuring a continuation of our crummy government.

Independent City Council candidate Victor E. Sasson asks, "Do you think it's fun to live in Hackensack?"

Sasson worked for 29 years as a reporter, copy editor and food writer at The Record on River Street, then bought a home in the city's Fairmount section in August 2007.

Since then, he has written increasingly higher property tax checks four times a year, the latest on Tuesday, triggering another bout of heartburn.

Where does money go?

He still doesn't really know where all of his tax money goes.

Long-time residents say Sasson's street hasn't been paved since 1979.

Business jets roaring overhead keep him up at night, and the city wakes him up by collecting garbage and recyclables before 6 a.m.

The city is one of the most inefficient around, operating a huge fleet of gas guzzlers, including as many as 15 driven home by city employees, and is just getting around to installing solar panels on city buildings.

No solar panels are planned for schools, however, and the district spends more per pupil than Ridgewood, with little academic success to show for it. 

Dreaded 'Zisaville' 

Most of the city officials who rule Sasson's life were installed by the corrupt Zisa family, making  "Zisaville" a dirty word.

All but one member of the current City Council have been in office for nearly 8 years -- plenty of time to rape the taxpayer with insider deals worth millions of dollars that have favored a select group of lawyers, landlords and developers. 

Disease of apathy

Thanks to apathetic voters, these autocratic council members were elected by only about 20 percent or less of the registered voters in 2005 and 2009. 

Many of the voters who don't want to get involved are living in Hackensack's large number of apartment buildings, where they pay property taxes passed along to them in their rent, although they might not realize that.

A good argument could be made that city officials adopted a policy of destroying single-family homes to make way for apartment buildings, knowing largely apathetic tenants would not seek reform at the polls.

Curse of the tax-exempt 

Living in the county seat, with a major medical center nearby, has proven to be a curse.

Hackensack University Medical Center owns $130 million in property that, as a non-profit, it pays no taxes on, shifting the burden onto homeowners and renters.

Several years ago, the hospital took over the city ambulance service and EMTs -- in an official sleight-of-hand that was another bad deal for taxpayers.

Bergen County owns tens of millions of dollars of tax-exempt property, as does Fairleigh Dickinson University, which has a Hackensack campus.

In the past 8 years, city officials have demanded little in lieu of all those unpaid property taxes.

Mordaga changes

However, on Feb. 4, Mike Mordaga took over the demoralized Police Department, and began asking county law-enforcement agencies for help in fighting crime.

Mordaga, the city's first civilian police director, also has asked HUMC to staff a room in the county shelter to cut down on the time and expense of taking homeless people to the emergency room.

NJMG and The Record

North Jersey Media Group and its flagship daily paper, The Record, abandoned Hackensack in 2009 -- dealing the final blow to a struggling Main Street.

And compliant city officials have done nothing to pressure the wealthy Borg family into redeveloping their 20 acres.

Some residents think the Borgs have abandoned the property, which has become an eyesore. 

Why no pool?

Hackensack, the most populous community in Bergen County, doesn't even have a city pool, and long-time residents blame racist officials who don't want black children to have any fun.

Last year, former state Assemblyman and Police Chief Ken "I Am The Law" Zisa was convicted of official corruption and insurance fraud, and sentenced to 5 years in prison.

But he has been allowed to remain free pending his appeal, and his cousins still serve as city attorney and head of the Building Department.

$6M in legal fees

Ken Zisa's legal problems, both civil and criminal, have cost Hackensack taxpayers $6 million in legal fees in the past 3 year, and most of that wasn't covered by insurance.

Still, the Zisa family political dynasty, backed by Democratic Party boss Lynne Hurwitz, was perpetuated by City Council members, who should have fired the police chief years ago to limit the city's liability. 

Sasson won't have to write another property tax check until August, but already the knot in his stomach is beginning to grow.

Front-page news

After largely sitting on the sidelines during Hackensack's City Council campaign, The Record today publishes a Page 1 story on the 11 candidates in Tuesday's election:

"Factions battle for control of city"

"Hackensack Council
race turns nasty"   

Sasson is identified on A-1 as the "one candidate running on his own, calling for lower taxes and better quality of life."

Here is a link to the story on North

Six reform candidates battle corruption 

Below the story on the Web site, most of the candidates answer three questions from The Record's Hackensack reporter, Hannan Adely:

Q. What steps will you take to improve openness and transparency in government?

Q. The city is dogged by the perception that favoritism and cronyism are prominent in government. How will you ensure fairness and restore the public’s trust?

Q. What can and should the council do to improve the city’s downtown?



  1. Why don't you move since you don't like it there? And if you worked in the city before you moved there, didn't you know the taxes were high and what the political climate?

    For an informed person, you seem incredibly uniformed. You knew what the city was before you moved there. How can I trust your judgement?

  2. That's a moronic comment. How would I know anything about taxes? Do you think I rfifled through residents' mailboxes? That "why don't you move" bullshit is used by people who are just trying to stave off reform. How easy is it to sell homes these days, but I don't want to move. You probably don't even live in Hackensack so your opinion is worthless.

  3. That sounds like the "America, love it or leave it" type mentality. I prefer the words of John F Kennedy- "Without debate, without criticism no administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive."

  4. Victor,
    Thanks for the continuing interweaving of commentary about Hackensack with your take on the paper. You really rocked me today with your revelation about property taxes on your residence. You make me feel almost guilty about perpetually bitching about my (much lower) taxes in my "wealthy" town, almost but not quite.

    The specifics vary from town to town, but I firmly believe that there is not a municipality in Bergen County that doesn't fit in the corruption template you've outlined. I'll risk offending you again by pointing out that most of the property taxes go to schools and most school taxes go to salaries. I think that's because most taxpayers have religious faith in the congenital nobility of people in education and most parents of current enrollees want safe babysitting and coddling for their progeny.

  5. The school budget is higher than the city budget in Hackensack, where the high school has at least three assistant principals, some say four. But residents don't get back what wealthier communities do in terms of test scores and academic achievement.

  6. My realtor knew exactly what the taxes were before I moved in. You must have had a bad one. I probably would have asked anyway. I would assume its a matter of public record.

  7. Blah, blah, blah. You miss the point.


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