TIME TO GET SERIOUS ABOUT PROPERTY TAX REFORM IN NJ
By Monroe Township Councilman Cody D. Miller
It should come as no shock that in 2016 New Jersey ranked No. 1 on the list of the most moved-from states according to a study by the moving company United Van Lines. It’s also the fifth year that NJ holds the number one spot.
As an official in municipal government and as young professional who recently graduated college and basically holds a mortgage in student loan debt, I’m concerned about the future of my state and the affordability of living here. I hear the horror stories every day from seniors who are living on a fixed income who are barely managing to get by. I saw this same struggle a few years ago with an immediate family member who almost lost her home because she couldn’t afford to pay her taxes. My friends are even leaving the state because NJ is one of the most expensive states to live in. I’m facing the struggle of trying to find more adequate employment that allows me to be able to pay off my loans and afford to live on my own. Recent figures from the US Census Bureau suggest that NJ’s young adults are more educated than they were 30 years ago, but are earning less and are far more likely to live with their parents than the previous generation. The actual figure is that more than 40 percent of the state’s 18 to 34 year-olds now live with their parent – that’s scary. And I see why this is happening and why people are leaving in droves – they can’t afford it anymore.
I even see it with all the abandoned and foreclosed properties in my town. There’s a big problem here. If NJ doesn’t get serious about real property tax reform, we are going to continue to lose NJ’s best and brightest to other states and we will continue to see people struggling to stay in their homes. Now I know this may all seem like I’m painting a gloom and doom picture, which I am, but I know there’s still hope and we have work to do.
Some towns, like my town, are entering into shared service agreements with other municipalities to save tax dollars. One of those agreements is a shared service with Franklin Township for our tax collection. This is a move that saves Franklin money and makes Monroe a small profit. I even have a friend who’s a councilman in Dumont that is being creative and pushing to have a shared municipal building between the towns of Dumont and Bergenfield because both will save money by sharing space.
In Gloucester County, our freeholders have also been cognizant of finding ways to save tax dollars. Our tax assessment is now done through the county tax assessor. In 2016, Monroe saved $429,887 by having this service run through the county. The combined savings of all towns totaled $4,363,070 – that’s some serious change. Our former Freeholder Director and now Senate President, Stephen Sweeney, has a plan to address the outdated school funding formula. It makes sense because the biggest portion of what we pay in property taxes goes to schools. 55.34% of what a resident pays in Monroe goes to our schools and only 26.2% of it goes to fund our municipal budget. Steve’s plan would create the “School Funding Fairness Commission”, which is an independent panel of experts, who will create a plan to return full funding to every NJ school. Monroe is underfunded and so are many other towns. This would help to relieve the burden on our local tax payers if we received full funding.
There is no quick fix to this problem. That’s why it’s going to require local, county and state government to work together to come up with solutions. We all face this burden and we need to find a way to reduce waste in government and push for consolidated services. And it can be done in such a way where people don’t lose their jobs. If that means shared service agreements with other towns, so be it. If that means trying to push for more county run services to take petty politics out of local towns that operate like fiefdoms and don’t want to give up control or work to save tax dollars, then so be it. If that means providing investment and low interest rate loans to people who want to start a small business, which creates jobs and those businesses pays taxes, so be it. If that means taking the big stick approach with the bill that Steve Sweeney proposed that would initiate shared services from municipalities to New Jersey’s Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization, and Consolidation Commission (LUARCC) in which any town that failed to enact a LUARCC-recommended shared services agreement would lose state aid, then so be it. The time to get serious is now, we can’t wait and our residents can’t wait.
Cody D. Miller – Councilman at Large
Township of Monroe
125 Virginia Ave, Williamstown, NJ 08094
Office 856-728-9800 Ext 229