BMW’s nearly $4 million tax refund to be paid over four years — Pascack Press & Northern Valley Press

Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo speaks at the annual Breakfast with the Greater Pascack Valley Mayors on Jan. 29, 2020. | Photo by Murray Bass

WOODCLIFF LAKE, N.J.—The Borough Council has unanimously agreed to refund nearly $4 million in commercial taxes to BMW of North America LLC, for the tax years 2009–2012 as part of a settlement that was contested in court and upheld by a state tax court judge.

In response to the approval, resident William “Skip” Dolan initiated an online petition Feb. 14 citing a state Division of Taxation investigation that discredits the tax settlement and said the Tax Court judge never ordered Woodcliff Lake to pay the settlement in its 2017 decision.

“State of NJ Investigators are unsparing in their findings, many of which are quite disturbing, missing files [BMW only], negligence, tax files left unsecured when they should be under lock and key,” Dolan said in a detailed online letter addressed to residents.

“The New Jersey tax court opinion reflects that the Borough of Woodcliff Lake’s Mayor & Council acted soundly and reasonably in its property tax appeal settlement with BMW. Mr. Dolan’s challenge was dismissed with prejudice. This Court judgment is important to the Woodcliff Lake taxpayers, because it provided tax appeal valuation certainty moving forward and eliminates the cost and uncertainty of litigation. Mayor Carlos Rendo and the Council should be complimented. This is the way government should function reflecting fundamental fairness to all,” special redevelopment counsel Kenneth Porro wrote Pascack Press.

In a resolution on Feb. 8, the council agreed the payments will be made by the borough over a four-year period, with no interest charged.

BMW of North America, at 200 Chestnut Ridge Road, comprises a major corporate presence in the borough. The BMW facility, opened in 2008, includes a 220,000-square-foot campus and employs 40–50 associates who help to manage 97 automotive dealerships, plus satellite stores for an Eastern region that covers 11 states from Vermont to Virginia, according to BMW.

Although some residents had alleged missing tax files make the refund payments suspect, few concerns were raised by council about the settlement.

Moreover, the settlement payouts were vouched for and approved by the borough tax counsel, tax assessor, and appraisal expert, said the resolution.
Councilman Craig Marson was concerned that the resolution did not state the specific amounts being refunded for each tax year.

Four other tax years that were originally contested by BMW— 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2013—were withdrawn or dismissed as per the 2014 resolution passed by the Borough Council.

The refund settlement resolution states the borough must pay BMW $1 million for tax year 2009 by March 1, 2021; $1 million for tax year 2010 by March 1, 2022; $1 million for tax year 2011 by March 1, 2023; and $950,000 for tax year 2012 by March 1, 2024.

The resolution did not indicate what funds would be used for the refunds. Efforts to determine funding sources were not returned by press time.

Borough Administrator Tom Padilla told Pascack Press later that the borough has about $1.9 million in reserves that will pay off the $1 million due by March, and more funds will likely be put aside in the 2021 budget for the next payment due March 1, 2022.

Resident Alex Couto questioned how much in annual taxes BMW pays. Administrator Tom Padilla said tax records are public information available via the borough website and said he would get an answer for Couto.

Rendo noted that BMW “pays a considerable amount of money in taxes to our borough and without an impact to our school system.”

On Feb. 7, resident Skip Dolan wrote Pascack Press to question the basis for the settlement due to alleged missing files. He said residents should be aware of the council’s rush to pay off BMW despite the alleged missing records.

Dolan said “both the Special Tax Appeal Counsel, Mr. Porro and the Tax Assessor, Mr. Anzevino acknowledged separately to a Tax Appeals Judge and a NJ State Investigator in 2019, the BMW files predating 2015 do not exist, they were lost over six years ago,” he charged.

“Resolution 21-51 (authorizing tax refunds) should be opposed until there is a full investigation of the Council into the missing BWM tax assessor files… Those BMW files now missing (six years) would have provided the basis for the $3,950,000 tax appeal settlement with BMW,” wrote Dolan. “This is why you are being asked to oppose Resolution 21-51, this is not good government and it will raise your taxes.”

Dolan did not comment during the Feb. 8 council session.

Former Councilwoman Donna Abene, who said she was on the council when the BMW tax settlement was crafted in 2014, noted “the settlement is sterling.”

She said the council was “in a heck of a pickle and BMW met us, as the good neighbors they are, at more than half way.” She said BMW “structured the [tax refund] deal so we could get right with them without going bankrupt as a town.”

She said, “You need to stop talking about it. It’s over, it’s done with, we’re paying our part and BMW is still here; thank heavens they’re still here.”

As for possible lawsuits against BMW, she advised: “Stop it. It’s over, it was settled years ago. It was a fair settlement for everyone. So there’s all sorts of things to worry about in this world today. Move on, folks, move on from this.”