Montclair: Sorry About the Train Whistles. It’s Temporary

This just in from the township of Montclair. The long-sought Quiet Zone whistle ban has been delayed for several weeks, awaiting waiver.

Notice to Residents: Train Horns in Montclair
Despite the best efforts of Montclair and NJ TRANSIT over the past several months, it has become apparent that there will be a short gap between the end of the Train Whistle Ban and the implementation of a Quiet Zone. During this gap, which could last a few weeks, NJ TRANSIT must comply with the federal law governing the use of horns at grade crossings. As a result, residents will notice use of locomotive horns between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. after June 24, 2010.

As residents of Montclair may know, the Township has been working aggressively and cooperatively with NJ TRANSIT to implement a Quiet Zone that would allow for silencing train horns at all crossings in Montclair 24 hours a day. The Township and NJ TRANSIT have applied for a waiver from the Federal Railroad Administration to allow the current 7 p.m. – 7 a.m. whistle ban to stay in effect until all the requisite safety enhancements to grade crossings have been completed and the 24-hour Quiet Zone can be put into effect. However, there may be a short delay of a few weeks before the waiver is granted, when federal safety regulations will require trains to blow whistles in advance of all grade crossings in order to ensure motorist and pedestrian safety. All railroads must comply with these regulations, which supersede all existing regulations, such as Montclair’s nighttime “whistle ban.”
The Township and NJ TRANSIT will continue to work with the Federal Railroad Administration to ensure that this process moves forward as expeditiously as possible.

In March, the town council authorized $1.186 million ($1.126 million to be financed by bonds) to pay for Quiet Zone implementation.

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  1. Didn’t this cost us a million or there abouts?
    How does it feel now with a 10% property tax increase?

  2. Ha! If you think the work to make Montclair a “Quiet Zone” is going to overlap by a few weeks… well then I can sell you the new Goethals Bridge.
    A few weeks will turn into a few months.

  3. It doesn’t feel like anything now. But wait until the $220,000,000 capital purchases bill comes due. We only have 38,000 residents. Hey, I wonder what the interest is on $6,000 per person?

  4. To my understanding the price tag on this luxary item is upwards of two million dollars. The first question is, how many people does this truely impact? The second is, what did those who purchased the homes, that were near or directly next to a rail line expect?

  5. let’s not forget our bastion of fiscal responsibility Cary, voted FOR this 1.2 million dollar extravagance.
    Now, thanks to our spend-thrift council and mayor and our slide in bond rating due to their fiscal incompetence, we’ll pay a higher rate for this debt.

  6. For the record, when the resolution to approve the quiet zone was first approved, the consultant the town paid to conduct the study anticipated the total cost would be around $600,000. As usual, the price had doubled or most likely tripled. With that said, might I suggest Cary sponsor a resolution that requires that dollar amounts discussed when weighing the necessity of potential expenditures be tripled to reflect the reality of the mismanagement of ALL major projects in Montclair.

  7. Would this be like the type of consultants Cary wants to hire in order to “streamline” the police and fire departments?

  8. As I’ve said before…. right now trains blow whistles. They always have. They blow whistles at grade crossings from 7am-7pm…. when the bulk of trains go through town. They blow whistles on approach to each of our 6 stations, regardless of time.
    The quiet zone (supposedly) costs $1.2 million (plus interest). The only thing that would change if we did not spend this money at ALL (sadly, many dollars have already been spent on consultants)…. is the very few trains that go through town after 7pm and before 7am, would start blowing whistles at grade crossings.
    $1.2 million dollars. Most of the crossings we’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to “quietzonify” are within a few hundred feet of a station, which means the trains will STILL HAVE TO sound whistles anyway.
    What a great investment in a time of 10% tax increase.

  9. Today’s Trivia question is sponsored by the quirky Township of Montclair.
    How many other towns in NJ are investing in a Quiet Zone?

  10. The contest rules specify that no relatives of the contest judge may participate. Please withdraw your correct guess.

  11. The whistles probably won’t even be as loud as that party at Egan’s last Saturday, and they also don’t go on and on for hours, so it won’t make a difference to me. Scrap the plan; I’m tapped.
    p.s. Didn’t the New School come in wildly over-budget too? and the Woodman Field project? ~>:|

  12. If you do the homework you will realize that:
    The train whistles have to be much much louder under the new code
    If this didn’t pass all the houses by the tracks would have appealed their taxes the way people on busy streets do and the net cost to the “non town affected taxpayers” probably would have been almost as high.
    If you want to blame someone, blame the feds for trying to protect the stupid drivers who swerve around the “unsafe gates” we have now.

  13. Those homes near the tracks may have already received a noise deduction from the last re-valuation. (Did they?)
    Once that rate is determined however, I don’t think you will have much luck claiming that YOUR noise is higher louder than everyone else’s and should be reduced even more. .
    I’m convinced the tax Commissioner will not take this as a valid reason to lower your taxes.

  14. montclair – the only problem with your argument is that these homes already have discounted land assessments due to their proximity to the tracks.
    And in case you haven’t heard, tons of people are already appealing their taxes. This year alone there were 1,225 appeals filed. I’d argue that the overall fiscal mismanagement of the town is going to cost us far more in lost tax appeals than not paying for a quiet zone that we simply can’t afford at this time.

  15. prof – In the context of previous tax appeals (post-revaluation) where we tried to use comps that were closer to the tracks than our home, the township always argued that the house was not comparable due to this defect. So yes, it seems quite likely that the land valuations for these homes were set lower than homes in better locations.
    That being said, to file an appeal today, the County Tax Board is looking at what your true market value is as of the valuation date. So if your home is valued less than your total assessment as of that date, you can win a reduction.
    One might make the argument post peak that a defect like poor location has a much more detrimental value on the price of the home today, as opposed to the height of the sellers market when buyers were willing to settle on homes with less than optimal location or updates because they were priced out of better properties. I’d argue that this is an issue all over town, and not just for the folks along the tracks.

  16. it’s a death spiral. Classic in fact. Mismanagement begets worse credit rating which begets lower property values and higher taxes which begets tax appeals which begets less revenue which will beget worse credit ratings…
    And the Mayor preoccupies himself with skate boarding parks and worth potlucks.
    Most councilors are along for the ride and one shakes his head at the goings on. But the goings on keep going on…
    The back half of the ship has cracked off and sunk to the bottom, but no one (in power) is sufficiently alarmed to make much fuss.

  17. I do love the argument that spending 1.2 million is a good idea to prevent tax appeals which may or may not happen anyway due to a bad economy and worsening fiscal management by Fried and the council.
    It’s like saying building a pool in your back yard is a good investment because the water bill from the kids running in the sprinklers will go down.

  18. ROC – and how many of those people, even if their property were adversely affected would actually file the formal appeal. Many of my own neighbors are easily over-assessed by $150-$200k. I gave my eldery mext door neighbor’s family all of the info on filing an appeal and instructions for going it completely solo, getting a tax appeal appraisal or hiring an attorney. Explained how it was a guaranteed win and that they were overpaying taxes by at least $3-4k/year. Neighbor didn’t file because they said they couldn’t afford to pay the $300 for an appraisal. They will likely have to sell because they can’t afford to pay what will be (after this year’s increase) an almost $18,000 tax bill on a home that won’t even sell for $500k. Sad thing is when they sell, they will probably sell at an even lower price because of their severe overassessment.
    Which will then establish a new comp for the neighborhood and more appeals from our neighborhood based on the comp that will be lower than all of our assessments. And the cycle will continue.

  19. A repost of Spicoli-TheSequel’s excellent comment in March:
    How many people live within a few hundred feet of a railroad crossing and are asleep between 7 PM & 7 AM? 10? 15? 25 people?
    How many of those people moved to town before trains existed?
    Jerseygurl has it right. Hundreds of homes are impacted by the loss of the current quiet zone. The train horns are 96 decibels and are blown 4 times at each grade crossing – the horns can be easily heard a 1/4 mile away from the crossings. There are 11 grade crossings in Montclair, so hundreds of families would have to deal with this. Also consider that the last train goes through town at about 1:20am and the first at 5:00am. That leaves only about 3 1/2 hours per night when no horns are blown. As JG said, that creates a strong case for tax revaluation, and the rest of the town would have to pick up that tax burden.
    And I don’t buy the “how many of those people moved to town before trains existed” argument. There was no way of foreseeing that the federal government would change the rules on quiet zones and that Montclair would potentially lose the 7pm to 7am quiet zone. No one was complaining about the status quo – it was the fed gov’t that changed this to an all or nothing scenario and set up the new rules.
    I don’t buy that everyone impacted got their taxes reassessed – many didn’t because of the town’s commitment to implement this solution. If it doesn’t happen, expect a tax revenues to decrease (post reassessment) and the for sale signs to increase.

  20. Random – The entire town was reassessed for 2007. At that time, the land value for homes in close proximity of the tracks was discounted as part of the assessment….just as people who live on Valley Rd and the like got an assessment reduction due to traffic. This is common practice in real property assessment.
    Regardless of whether or not the lack of a quiet zone will have a further adverse impact on the value of these properties, many homes in town have already decreased in value below their 2007 assessment. I review data for the entire town each year when determining if I should file a tax appeal. Based on reviewing assessment to sale price ratios of all the homes that sold last year, I’d say easily over 50% of the town is already overassessed and could win an appeal if they filed. The appeal argument justifying the expense of a quiet zone is a bit of a canard. Even with the quiet zone, many of these owners already have a viable property tax appeal.

  21. The tax reassessment argument is hilarious.
    We’re not talking about someone building a train line behind a house that did not previously have one. We’re talking about a few more train whistles than we have not. That’s the only net effect of not instituting a quiet zone.
    All of the tax arguments are completely theoretical. No one can point to any evidence. Never mind the fact that market value comes into play and in reality many homes are MORE desirable because of the walking proximity to the train stations.
    Here’s what we do know for a fact:
    We’re broke.
    $1.2 million.

  22. Just wait until some dope wearing headphones or diddling his BlackBerry walks on to the tracks and is killed. whose fault’ll that be, you think?

  23. Let’s see, Montclair is seeking a waiver to suspend some whistle blowing after 7pm, safety be damned. hmmmm This seems to run counter to the position of the typical nanny safety crowd in Montclair.
    Lot of tax appeal misinformation in this thread. An appeal must be filed by April 1 and the fact issue is what was the fair market value of your property on the previous November 1. You win if you can prove that the tax assessor,s assessment was more than 10% greater than what you show was the fair market value. Good luck!

  24. I’d like to compare the fiscal planning of Montclair to that of my old college roommate. She paid for undergrad and medical school (and the living expenses for those 8 years) pretty much entirely with student loans.
    Summer before her last year of medical school she borrows an extra $5k to take a trip to Europe.
    Her logic? I already owe over $250k. Another $5k more won’t make much of a difference when I’m paying it back next year. If I don’t do this now, I won’t have the money for a trip like this while I’m paying back loans on a resident’s salary.
    What difference will a little skate park, or a senior center, or a quiet zone make when we already owe a mind-boggling $220M? Might as wll just max out all the cards and then declare bankruptcy.

  25. Spectator – Please don’t spread mis-information of your own.
    Tax appeals do have to be filed on April 1. The valuation date, however is Oct 1 of the prior year, not Nov 1.
    And there is no 10% buffer over true market value. There is a 15% buffer over the common level average ratio, however that buffer never extends above true market value. Montclair’s average ratio this year is 99.30, however if you are assessed at even 101% of fair market value, you would be entitled to an assessment reduction.

  26. Thanks for the correction, Gator, you’re right but in practice appeals are not sucessful unless there is significant discrepancy between the assessment and your evidence of fair value.

  27. Spectator,
    I’m not sure about whether or not a “significant discrepancy” has to be present.
    The last two years I appealed and watched as some folks got a little reduction and some a lot. One I remember, showed a 30 or 40k difference and got their value reduced a bit. (For some, they will negotiate a figure right there, so you don’t have to wait for the commissioner’s decision in the mail.)
    From being there, reading here and hearing folks talk about the process, it’s plain to me that most folks don’t have a clue about the process. (Lie #1: You need to hire a lawyer).
    Oh, and last year I got a sizable reduction. The prior year, nuthin’.
    And I appealed again this year.

  28. Spectator – That may be true when assessments are below true market value – this is where the 15% buffer over the common level comes into play.
    Unfortunately for Montclair, the township does not have the luxury of that buffer because our assessments are supposed to be at market value. I have successfully appealed twice. We settled before hearing both times. One year we took about 6% off the assessment, the next year about 10%. This year we stand to get a 15% reduction and we’re not settling unless the town offers us our appraised value.
    And like prof, we’ve never used an attorney. The town knows they will lose against almost anyone who knows what they are doing. They’ll offer you a settlement if you have a meritorious case.

  29. Much as I hate to bring the Bush doctrine (dope-trine) into this, but it’s not as if the town has gone from a financial hero to a zero in the last 2 years. We’ve been headed this way for a long time.
    Suck it up people and take some personal responsibility. There’s no sure thing except death and taxes (except on True Blood).
    I agree with NJgator – in for a penny, in for a pound.

  30. I’m not going to get into an extensive debate about the Quiet Zone, but it would make sense for people to look up the Quiet Zone FAQ on the town website before commenting.
    In it you will see that Montclair has had, and already does have a Quiet Zone. Since the ’70s.
    What is happening now is it is going away unless we do something.
    GO HERE:
    And as long as I’m encouraging people to do something, while $1MM for this project isn’t chicken feed, I encourage you to look at the OTHER $246MM in debt we have and where it was spent, including the approximately $8MM annually in recent years.

  31. “I’m not going to get into an extensive debate about the Quiet Zone”
    Doesn’t want to defend his vote.
    Another 1.2 million in debt (now and a higher interest rate!) and the beat goes on.

  32. I know this is way after the fact, but does anybody know–has it ever been explicitly put out there–what the “devastating” cuts would be in Mayor Fried’s nightmare scenario of a 0 percent (or even, say, 2 percent) increase in the budget? What would that budget look like? I assume we should still have schools. Would there be one teacher for every 1000 pupils? etc? Have the options ever been spelled out publicly? Have they been even discussed behind closed doors?

  33. ROC,
    There comes a point where someone has talked about an issue again, and again, and again and, as they say “we have to agree to disagree.”
    I’ve offered to have you meet with me, the Town Manager, and other knowledgeable people regarding this, or any other issue. There are a group of very dedicated and knowledgeable people who have “lived” the Quiet Zone issue for a dozen years.
    Why don’t you take us up on our offers? Last week one of my neighbors, someone with an extensive financial background, met with the Town Manager and reported back that he learned things, as did the Manager.
    They made PROGRESS.
    Want to meet, ROC?
    But its back to the budget for me. Wall’s points are good, but now the official Montclair line is “we don’t have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem.”
    Huh? I call it spending more than you have.

  34. Roo, I have in my possession a copy of the “Doomsday Budget” that I was able to nick from the safe at the municipal building. It envisions the following:
    1. All police personnel would be laid off. Residents who are victims of a crime must seek justice on their own. The township will recommend that all residents carry large, sharpened tree limbs with them when they travel.
    2. All fire personnel will be laid off. A bucket brigade comprised of volunteers will be organized, but they will have to provide their own buckets.
    3. All teachers and administrators will be laid off. Residents are to home school their children or, barring that, plant them in front of a TV tuned to WNET.
    4. Coin fed meters will be installed in all homes, so that residents can pay for each glass of water, toilet flush, or wash cycle. All revenues go directly to the township.
    5. Parking meter rates will be raised to $5.00 per 10 minutes. When your car is towed, it will be immediately sold on e-bay with all profits directed to the township.
    6. Each resident will be issued an axe with which to chop any errant trees that fall onto their yards or on the street during the next microburst. This will also come in handy for late night walks about town. The Public Works folks who currently provide this service will be laid off.
    These are just the highlights, but it is estimated that just these simple 6 steps will mean that the township can keep the property tax increase at only 7.5%.

  35. now the official Montclair line is “we don’t have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem.”
    So really, truly, this is the actual Montclair township plan? (Please forgive the reposting.)

  36. Good grief. Like you Herr Doktor ‘roo, I would love to know how “devastating” is defined when it comes to budget cuts. The town does need to mitigate problems – remove asbestos from schools, comply with new fed regulations to maintain quiet zone status, fill potholes, as well as provide basic services and do enough maintenance to keep business districts attractive to businesses and customers. We should be able to do that without raising taxes 10%. Other towns do.

  37. Cary – I’m sorry, but I have to take issue with that statement. Some of us have offered to help, only to have their offers fall on deaf ears from you of all people with no explanation.
    This town pisses away the cost of a quiet zone EVERY YEAR while burying it’s head in the sand about undefenseable assessments. We do this and cut services and then ask already tapped out residents to hand over another 10% like it’s nothing. We’ve got a lot of painful decisions that must be made in this town, but they are only being made worse by our “leaders” ignoring problems that actually have achieveable solutions.
    As I’ve said before, Stu and I are willing to meet with you and the Town Manager and anyone else you think would be helpful to discuss this.

  38. ” The town does need to mitigate problems … comply with new fed regulations to maintain quiet zone status”
    No we don’t. We don’t have to continue the quiet zone. Since when are we all obligated to public debt in order to preserve a small subset’s property values?’
    In fact more people’s property values will be preserved if we get our fiscal house in order.
    Cary: “we have to agree to disagree.”
    I don’t agree to that. The most I’ll agree to is that you don’t want to discuss the topic or defend your vote.

  39. Cary, I read the FAQs. It was hard given how poorly written it was and how incredibly biased it was. One thing I did notice is that just two years ago the Quiet Zone improvements were estimated to cost $700,000. So, in two years the estimated costs have increased over 50%.
    Secondly, I am sick and tired of people dismissing the price tag relative to our overall debt. THERE IS NO SILVER BULLET TO GET US OUT OF THIS FINANCIAL QUAGMIRE. You consistently express the mindset that the “chicken feed” should be ignored. I completely disagree. We cannot ignore any oppportunity to control costs. A million here and and amillion there and pretty soon we are talking about real money. When our family deals with financial issues there are no expenditures too small.
    Cary, I do appreciate that you (as opposed to your ostrich-like council mates) have the courage of your convictions to put your name and ideas out here. I just think that this line of thinking that you express is misguided.

  40. NJGator,
    Email me and I’ll set up the time. No intention to not take advantage of your offer!

  41. No problems here. No siree.
    Note from the article below, that “Montclair is the only Essex County municipality, aside from Irvington, that requested a cap waiver this year.”
    Additionally out of 566 municipalities, only 29 requested a cap waiver from the state (28 were approved).
    Why is it that 537 municipalities can hold the line on spending and we can’t?
    State waives 4 percent tax cap

  42. A necessary clarification to Cary’s statement, because this argument keeps getting manipulated this way over and over again.
    We don’t lose what we have now if we “don’t do something.” We currently have a quiet zone between 7pm and 7am ONLY. The vast majority of trains that come through Montclair run outside of those hours. There is currently no quiet zone during 7am-7pm.
    If we do not spend $1.2 million, all that changes is the few trains that run between 6am-7am and 7pm-1am will blow their horns at crossings in addition to the approach to station, (which they will have to continue to do regardless of blowing $1.2 million.)
    Yes, spending $1.2 million gets us a 24 hour quiet zone, but we sure don’t have that now, and there is no compelling reason I’ve heard that we need it. This expenditure does not prevent a DRASTIC change from occurring. It’s not like it’s a town devoid of train whistles that is suddenly going to be inundated at all hours of the day and night.
    It’s still a nice item to have, if it were being called for the majority of residents, if other towns had a similar lunxury (only one other town in all of NJ is working on a 24 hour quiet zone) and if we. WERE. NOT. BROKE.
    Cary, I hear you man, look at what other stupid things we’ve spent money on in the past. Great. But you know what, this is something we’re spending money on now and in the future. Something we can actually do something about instead of talking about and throwing our hands up.

  43. dxrrxd,
    I really am trying to understand both the facts, i.e. number of trains, and everyone’s thoughts as it relates to spending.
    So, I investigated the “number of trains” thing. I counted. There are twenty three trains that go through Montclair between 7pm and 7am. No quiet zone and those 23 trains blow their horns, which amounts to something like 1100 train blasts during those hours.
    Regarding the day, there are approximately 55 trains that go through that CURRENTLY are blowing their horns 4 times at each of 12 grade crossings. With the quiet zone that will stop.
    So there will be changes for both DAY and NIGHT.
    I’ve asked the person who wrote the FAQ on the web site to re-write it pointing out all the relevant data.
    And I apologize for saying $1MM is insignificant. It’s not.
    Maybe, though, I could start posting all the Town’s anticipated spending? For starters I’ll post the BOE’s Capital Spending Plan for the year upcoming.
    Cary Africk

  44. “Maybe, though, I could start posting all the Town’s anticipated spending? For starters I’ll post the BOE’s Capital Spending Plan for the year upcoming.”
    Now that is a terrific idea!
    How about (as I’ve been hocking for months now) an ordinance which requires an explanation of proposed spending be posted on the towns website 72 hours before any vote?
    (don’t look for a response here, folks. I’ve made this suggestion over and over and he never responds to it).
    How about a requirement to post the minutes of any meeting within 48 hours of the meeting.
    It’s hard to inform one’s self about the goings on. I think that’s by design. The difficulty in finding information and the relative silence when this suggestion is made are cases-in-point.

  45. “For starters I’ll post the BOE’s Capital Spending Plan for the year upcoming”
    That should make for some great reading. Nothing makes the BOE happier than bonding debt.

  46. Cary,
    Thanks for your follow up.
    I still say that this is an silly expenditure. Some may disagree and that’s fine.
    But it is important to me that the facts are presented properly. I appreciate you asking for the website to be corrected.
    Again, thanks for being the only member of Montclair’s elected government who regularly participates in this forum.
    I don’t always agree with you but I respect your efforts on our behalf.

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