Twp. files lawsuit against head construction official
By Charles Kim
WEST MILFORD – The township is suing its head construction official for allegedly running an “illegal dump” on his Morsetown Road property, according to a complaint filed with Passaic County Superior Court earlier this month.
The complaint, signed by Mayor Michele Dale and filed with the court on Jan. 4, alleges that Timothy Ligus, the head construction official for the township, was using a 10-acre parcel at 599 Morsetown Road as an illegal dump despite the land being listed as part of the Farmland Assessment program by the state.
Under that designation, the property is assessed for a much lower tax rate than would otherwise be applied as long as it is used strictly for farming, according to the state.
According to state property tax records, Ligus is assessed $60 on that parcel in 2019 compared to a 2.5-acre residential parcel containing a home at the same address, which was assessed at $9,684 for 2019.
The lawsuit, with a scheduled hearing date of Feb. 26, seeks to have Ligus stop commercial operations on the property and also seeks back taxes at the higher rate, according to the complaint and order to show cause filed with the court.
An investigation, including photographs, by the Ferriero Engineering Inc. firm, allegedly show that the 10-acre restricted use parcel is being used to import tree logs, soil and millings to the site, which are then moved by trucks from outside companies, according to the papers filed with the court.
Township Clerk, and former administrator, Antoinette Battaglia said the town began investigating the use of the property after receiving a number of anonymous complaints dating back to 2016 about noise and a large number of large construction vehicles going in and out of the property.
The investigation determined that the activity is in violation of the farmland designation, and also in violation of the zoning requirements for the R-4 zone, the documents stated.
Battaglia, who was appointed as administrator in addition to her clerk duties by former Democratic Mayor Bettina Bieri in 2015, began looking into the issue.
“We check out every complaint,” she said. “The responses we were getting did not make sense.”
Ligus began working for the township in March of 1998 and worked as a building sub-code official before becoming the head construction official for the municipality in July 2008, according to officials.
His duties in that role included directing investigations of residents for improper land use, similar to what he is accused of doing, officials said.
His most recent annual salary is listed as $115,578.
According to state records, Ligus filed two recent Financial Disclosure Forms as a public official in compliance with state law.
Those records, however, show no additional income from any business, or business interests, other than his annual salary.
Battaglia said that she, and Township Attorney Fred Semrau, met with Ligus in August to let him know about what the investigation uncovered and other personnel issues, which she said could not be elaborated on.
Following that meeting, she said, Ligus went on paid administrative leave, and then unpaid leave since Jan. 18.
Attempts to reach Ligus’ attorney for comment on the matter were not successful.
Mayor Michele Dale said the court action is separate and apart from the employment issues that resulted in Ligus being suspended without pay in August, and she could not comment on those issues because they are considered privileged as they relate to his personnel file.
“Tim Ligus, appears to have been conducting, or allowing at least two separate and distinct commercial businesses to operate, from this location without any approvals or permits,” she said. “To give perspective, the actual taxes being paid by one 5-acre commercial property located on Airport Road is $26,489.12. That is of grave concern to the township as we have a significant tax burden which falls on limited populace.”