Their property taxes jumped big time. Here’s what they’re doing about it
It seems like wherever you look these days, the problem of taxes keeps getting worse.
As New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes continue to go up, citizens in one South Jersey town are banding together to address the issue.
“When people got their tax bills in the mail for the most recent quarter there was a very organic anger built from that. It wasn’t something that was trumped up by a partisan group or a PAC or anything like that,” said local resident Peter Heinbaugh, organizer of the Gloucester Township Tax Revolt.
He said in the last budget cycle there was a 12 percent property tax increase, which for the average property owner was an increase of $600.
“This one was just kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back to most residents because of a combination of not just the tax increase, but that property values are flat at best, income levels almost for a generation now have been flat,” he said. “Anger boiled up, but now we need to quickly get past the venting stage and figure out what we can do productively.”
Gloucester Township Mayor David Mayer said everything possible is being done to hold the line on property taxes.
“We’ve held the line five years on property taxes, but unfortunately this year we had to increase property taxes,” he said. “We’re doing everything that we know how to do to control that, but there are going to be years when you’re going to have to raise property taxes.”
Heinbaugh begs to differ.
“Right now that’s not enough of a competitive bidding process,” he said. “We tend to give our contracts to those who make political contributions. I think we could save money by making a more true, competitive bidding process for large government contracts.”
He said another idea is to look at consolidating fire districts.
“In our one town, it’s broken up into five different fire districts. Each has its own budget, each has its own board of fire commissioners, each has its own equipment. There’s lots of duplication of equipment that could be eliminated,” he said.
Heinbaugh added to a large degree this is a problem of “career politicians making decisions who don’t really have experience in making the private-sector type decisions where you’re accountable for what you do.”
He stressed “taxes are just way too high considering incomes are fixed and property values are steady or worse, and I think we just a breaking point."
"To get a property tax hike of $600 to $800, that’s just too much," he said. "I mean, compared to Delaware or Pennsylvania or other parts of the country, it’s insane. People have been putting up with it for a while but I think they’re done putting up with it. I think our residents are ready to go to the ballot box and make a statement.”
Mayer said municipal officials are trying to reduce the cost of government. For instance, "we’re doing all kinds of creative programs with solar power,” he said.
He stressed to avoid property tax hikes, the only thing to do is increase ratables.
“We’re doing that,” he said. “We are increasing our ratables because we have the largest economic development project in the history of our township that opened last August, Premium Outlets. It’s a huge ratable for us.”
Heinbaugh said the bottom line is a 12 percent increase in property taxes is unacceptable.
But what about New Jersey’s 2 percent property tax cap?
“If you look across New Jersey tax entities routinely go over that 2 percent,” he said. “There’s so many exceptions that allow any municipality or any tax entity to go over the 2 percent that it’s become almost a worthless cap. There are a lot of loopholes for employee benefits. There are a lot of loopholes for what they can call emergency expenditures, like if there’s a storm or something like that, and our town and our county routinely take advantage of those loopholes."
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