The Murphy administration official who runs New Jersey Transit receives a huge break on his property taxes because he raises sheep at his Mendham Township home.
Kevin Corbett, who earns $281,000-a-year as president and CEO of the state’s beleaguered transit agency, pays less than $25 annually on a 5 ½ acre portion of his property under New Jersey’s Farmland Assessment Act.
Corbett did not include income from his sheep farm in his two financial disclosures filed with the State Ethics Commission.
According to Anthony Grieco, the senior vice president for Communications and Customer Service at NJ Transit, Corbett does not report his farming income because he earns less than $1,000. Senior state government officials are statutorily obligated to disclose all outside income over $1,000.
“His expenditures outpace his revenues. He loses money,” Grieco said. “He’s spending more than he’s earning.”
The Corbett sheep farm was described as boosting the economy in tony Mendham Township, where the median household income is $162,125, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Corbett is “injecting money in the local agricultural economy,” Grieco said, by spending cash on things like feed, hay, and maintenance on his tractor.
Grieco described the Corbett sheep farm as a hobby for a man charged by Gov. Phil Murphy with fixing a public transportation system that the governor called “a national disgrace.”
“Some people play golf. Kevin’s a farmer,” Grieco told the New Jersey Globe.
The difference is that golfers don’t receive big discounts on their property taxes for hitting the links on weekends.
It is not immediately clear whether the sum of Corbett’s loss on his sheep business exceeds the amount he saves by paying a heavily discounted property tax bill.
Corbett earns money breeding sheep. He also turns the wool sheared from his herd into blankets that he sells at a local farmers’ market.
Grieco told the Globe that Corbett’s farm tax status was fully vetted at the time of his appointment and that he is in compliance with state laws.
“This was reviewed under significant scrutiny,” said Grieco.
Corbett lives on the same street as former Gov. Chris Christie.
In 2013, Christie signed a bill that raised the minimum revenue needed to qualify for the special tax rate from $500 to $1,000 annually on the first five acres.
State law triggers a tax incentive based on gross revenues, which means Corbett must make an average of more than $1,000 each year to qualify. The transit executive didn’t list income from his farming venture because his net income is under $1,000, Grieco explained.
Grieco declined to offer specific revenue numbers regarding Corbett’s sheep farm, or about the size of his herd, but said that there are no additional employees to feed, shear and maintain the sheep beyond the NJ Transit boss and his family.
“It’s a family venture,” said Grieco.
NJ Transit refused to make Corbett available to answer questions about his sheep farm.
Instead, the agency issued a written statement.
“As president & CEO of NJ Transit, Kevin lives and breathes the mission that Governor Murphy tasked him with: turning around the agency to restore it as a national role model in public transportation – a turnaround that is already underway.”
“As an aside, Kevin also maintains a working family farm raising and breeding livestock. While his farm doesn’t generate any net revenue, working the farm is a pastime that Kevin and his family have enjoyed together for many years – it’s a labor of love for the Corbetts. The Corbetts maintain full compliance with all necessary state requirements as it relates to the farm.”
Records show that Corbett, who worked as a top executive at international engineering giant AECOM before joining state government, purchased his 6.24 acre Mendham property in 1998 for $1,175,000. Corbett pays $20,131 in taxes, but just $900 of it on the 5.5 acres that he uses to herd his sheep.
Christie, who does not have a farm, pays more than double that amount on a nearly identically sized property, local tax records show.
An old real estate listing described the Corbett home as having two barns with five stalls that includes a three-room apartment.
It’s not clear if anyone lives in the barn apartment, although Corbett’s financial disclosure does not list any rental income.
Murphy appointed Corbett to run NJ Transit a few weeks after taking office in 2018. His starting salary was $19,000-per-year higher than his predecessor, Steven Santoro.
Criticism of part-time farmers taking advantage of reductions in their property taxes in nothing new.
During his first campaign for Congress in 2010, Rep. Jon Runyan (R-Mount Laurel) defended paying less than $500 in property taxes on 20 of his 25 acres because he sold firewood and grazed donkeys.
Two years earlier, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage) faced calls for an investigation into his farmland tax assessment when his Democratic opponent alleged that the congressman saved as much as $41,000 annually thanks to a Christmas tree farm run by his brother that did not appear on his personal financial disclosure.
State Sen. Ellen Karcher (D-Marlboro) was hammered in her 2007 re-election campaign by Republican Jennifer Beck for claiming a tax incentive for a cord-wood and Christmas tree farm. Karcher did not initially include her farming income on her financial disclosure, but later amended it to do so.
Her loss was blamed on the farmland tax assessment issue.
In the 1993 New Jersey gubernatorial race, Gov. Jim Florio made a farmland tax reduction obtained by rival Christine Todd Whitman into a campaign issue. Whitman had sold firewood to friends and family to show revenues for her farm.
Whitman, who defeated Florio in that race, was able to deflect the issue by inviting reporters to tour the working farm and enjoy a lunch made with food raised there.
President Donald Trump saves about $88,000-a-year on local property taxes on a portion of his luxury Bedminster golf course because of a flock of eight goats he maintains, according to a report in the Huffington Post.
Trump is also a hay farmer.