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Sat, Jan

Your Opinion: Hopatcong Officials Endorse Real Estate Tax Inequities for Hopatcong’s Giant Landholder

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On May 20th the municipality of Hopatcong broadcasted and supported a “charity” event held on a property called Hudson Farm.  Our appointed mayor was in attendance along with most of our council members. 

Editor: Hopatcong Lake Regional News reader Michele Guttenberger has submitted the folowing article as "Your Opinion" on our site. As a courtesy to our site members, we always support your ability to voice your opinions to our readers.

I have stated my objection a few years ago at a Council Meeting that the Hudson Farm event was being affiliated as a Hopatcong Recreational Department event on our municipal literature.  I felt this was very misleading to the residents of Hopatcong. 

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My objection was that Hudson Farm was merely an assumed name of a for profit incorporated shooting club that was embedded on a billionaires’ deeded enterprise properties mostly listed under IAT Reinsurance Ltd.  If Hopatcong was going to publish IAT Reinsurance Ltd.’s aka Hudson Farm community charity activities, then they should be fair and publish other small businesses in Hopatcong that have sponsored Hopatcong community events.  My objection was never considered and the name” Hudson Farm” is still freely advertised on our municipal publications.  I guess, I did not have the legal sway to win this argument because, our borough attorney John Ursin also represents Peter Kellogg the billionaire landholder of Hudson Farm. So “Hudson Farm” and Hopatcong remain in partnership of this private club Inc’s event which is not a tax-exempt entity. 

Each year during a time that is close to Hopatcong’s Republican primary season, a press release is given about the history of Hudson Farm how it once was dairy farm and later became a nonprofit fresh air camp for underprovided NYC folks called Hudson Guild Farm.  The guild has long vacated this property and is now owned by a Wall St Billionaire and his family members who still sits on the board of Goldman Sachs after selling the family’s stock brokerage firm SLK to Goldman Sachs.  Hudson Farm had a great historical name and so the property name remained as “Hudson Farm”. 

Most of the land that was purchased by Peter Kellogg was considered NJ QUAL Farmland which gives it special low land assessment values and great low real estate tax rates.  The New Jersey Farmland Preservation Program has been very rewarding to this billionaire who received $ 1,444,279.65 for his 90.8321 acres of land in Bedminster Twp. In Somerset County in June 2006 and $2,918,617.80 for 286.139 acres of land the previous year.  Peter Kellogg would not receive these same payouts for “Farmland Preservation” in Sussex County but he still obtained a very lucrative real estate deal for his enterprise portfolio of IAT Reinsurance Ltd.  You can say Kellogg had the last laugh with the IRS since a Forbes June 2013 article by Janet Novack stated “Billionaire investor Peter R. Kellogg and IAT Reinsurance Co. Ltd., the Bermuda-based insurance company his family owns, are suing the Internal Revenue Service for refunds of $186 million in taxes and interest they paid after the IRS revoked IAT’s tax-exemption retroactively.”       

This year Hudson Farm provided $55,000 to Hopatcong Volunteer Community groups.  They are really deserving of these funds.  But was this really a charity or a claw back of the revenue Hopatcong is not receiving from all the commercial enterprises of Hudson Farms?  These large tracts of property called Hudson Farm has expanded to include open to the public full range of shooting lifestyle merchandise and services with the recent partnership of Griffin and Howe who opened a gun manufacturing facility on this property.  Hudson Farm is not a for members only club as it originally stated it would be but, continues to add more properties and a high end pay to play shooting amusement functions through Griffin and Howe at Hudson Farm. All these added facilities to these properties don’t seem to be reflected in new tax reassessments.  When it was a private membership club, the rumored membership fee was over $100,000 and some of Hopatcong’s Council members where given use of this private club.  Do you think they paid the same membership fee? Our past and present mayors and council members have touted the generosity of Hudson Farm Club Inc and our Borough has never voted against any resolution the club has asked for especially with the dual legal counsel that represents us. 

Do you think it is fair that a billionaire’s landholdings under EG Anderson and IAT Reinsurance Ltd comprising a total of 1,378 acres is only taxed $178,876?  That is $129.76 per acre.  What business or residential property in Hopatcong pays $129.76 in taxes for an acre of land? Certainly, not a lakefront property in Hopatcong Borough.

So, who really benefited from this charity hike that our elected officials were the welcoming staff for that included contenders in the local primary elections just a few weeks away?

However, I find the biggest injustice is against real land preservation.  The Hudson Farm Club Inc. funded the Audubon $140,000 to produce the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area Stewardship Plan.  This plan includes commercial logging on NJ Public Wild Life Areas that are controlled by the NJ DEP.  A group of Sparta residents don’t like the clear cutting that’s is being done on their mountain landscape and started a grassroots organization called Save Sparta Mountain with their motto “stop the chop”.  The aerial view of the clear cutting that is being done by Hudson Farm in Hopatcong looks bad too. There is a disturbing photo that shows what’s really going on with these properties posted by blogger Wolf Notes  http://www.wolfenotes.com/2016/03/billionaires-elite-hunting-club-gave-nj-audubon-140000-to-develop-sparta-mountain-logging-plan/ Coincidentally, while this Audubon plan was being developed, IAT Reinsurance Ltd invested in 16 million shares of MERC stock -Mercer International - a pulp product company. Isn’t it ironic too that Hudson Farm raises thousands of pheasants for killing sport but wants to protect the Golden Wing Warbler?  Also, did you know that the Hopatcong Land Use Board approved Hudson Farm cutting are mature woodlands for solar panel farming?

These are but a few of the “not so nice things” Hudson Farm does that the Hopatcong public never finds out about from its elected and appointed government. If I tried to list them all out I would be writing a book. But, I think you should remember this - that a billionaire averages $129.76 in taxes per Hopatcong acre which looks like a taxpayer funded philanthropic deal to a Wall St senior with a little help from Hopatcong’s elected friends.