Alarming Trends In Some New Jersey Towns [POLL]
New Jersey has and will continue to be the butt of property tax jokes for the foreseeable future. And while a bi-partisan effort to cap property taxes has had some success, some New Jersey towns have flipped the script.
Under the rules of the property tax cap legislation, townships would have to let voters decide whether they could exceed the 2% cap to meet budget shortfalls. Otherwise, townships would be forced to get creative with their cuts. Brick had been the only town to exceed the 2% cap, until yesterday.
Both Lawrence and Medford put the issue up to vote to their residents. Lawrence residents voted vehemently against an increase over the tax cap, while Medford went in the other direction, only a year after saying no to the hike.
Lawrence Township had tried to strong-arm their residents with threats of services that would be cut, but the residents did not buck. Governor Christie had urged citizens from both towns to call the bluff, and vote "no," when he appeared on last month's "Ask The Governor" program.
Watching this was a good education in letting the process play out, as it was designed by the Trenton lawmakers. However, some towns have attempted to circumvent the tax cap by imposing "user fees" for services that one would assume were included in their tax bill, such as emergency services.
We have been telling you about those fees, which are being used by Atlantic City, Bloomfield, and most recently, Passaic. Our reports have spurred Trenton lawmakers to step in. Republican State Senator Tony Bucco is proposing legislation that would eliminate or severely limit towns from doing this. While Senate President Steve Sweeney will introduce a measure that would have any fees count against the 2% cap.
The legislation is important because, essentially, a town could have their tax increase shot down as Lawrence did, and then circumvent it by passing user fees. The user fees could even work out to more money out of your pocket than the tax hike would have.
The issue will be debated in Trenton over the next several months, and it's encouraging that lawmakers are stepping in to put a stop to these fees. It is also alarming that some towns have their houses in such poor fiscal order, and are relegated to trying every tactic to close their budget gaps.
It is not every day that a pat on the back is deserved for Trenton politicians, but this case (at least so far) has earned them that.
Either way, we the taxpayers get caught in the middle of tussle. Hopefully, our wallets do not get hit with a stray bullet.