With State spending up 40 percent over the last 10 years, which rose faster than the rate of inflation, spending by local governments has increased by almost 70 percent during the same time period. Local governments rely heavily on property taxes, the one tax local voters routinely identify as their biggest concern.
Local governments spend more money than the state does. The combined budget of New Jersey’s local governments totals approximately $45 billion while the state has an annual budget of about $30 billion. Not surprisingly, New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation.
Over the last decade, property taxes have increased over 60% from an average of $4429 statewide to an average of $7281. Tax bills were rising at a rate of more than 7% annually by 2005, before Governor Corizine enacted a 4% cap in 2007. In 2008 and 2009 statewide increases in property taxes averaged 3.7 and 3.3 percent. Unfortunately some communities have eliminated valued services and jobs to get under the caps.
The Governor’s property tax cap includes several exemptions that local governments will use to get around the limit. For example, in 2008 more than 30 percent of local governments were able to raise taxes over 10 percent due to exemptions in the cap. The deal Christie has struck with Democratic leaders would also allow exceptions, for debt payments, rising health benefit and pension costs and if an unforeseen state of emergency occurs. School districts would also get an exception to deal with rising enrollment.
2011 will be no different. With the property tax cap lowered even more, to 2%, municipal governments will be using the “exemptions” to get around the 2% cap. The question is, when town officials are looking to cut costs, will they be looking in the right places? If the current state of affairs in Westfield continues, the Three Blind Mice might as well be in charge.
Cutting costs is necessary, but when you cut costs in one area to allow the cost of another service to unnecessarily continue, you defeat the purpose of cutting costs in the first place.
Example: Detective Sergeant John Rowe, hired 1/31/82. He will soon to be a 29 yr. veteran of the Westfield Police Department. He’s a throwback to the Bernard Tracy regime. Trained as a narcotics detective for a good part of his career. He is a sergeant capable of supervising the detective bureau when there was a need for a supervisor. Instead, another supervisor was promoted into the detective bureau. Where is Det. Sgt. Rowe now? He is currently assigned to the parking bureau. What is there to “investigate” or “detect” in the parking bureau? Another waste of Westfield tax dollars. His 2009 salary was $113,876. Combine that with a health benefits package of over $25,000. In 2011, close to $140,000 for a position once held by a person earning between $50,000 and $80,000. Mismanagement.
Example: Police Officer Vincent Piano, hired 5/26/85. 2009 salary $97,272 + health benefits worth in excess of $25,000. Currently assigned to a desk job inside police headquarters due to an undisclosed departmental reason.
Example: The construction of a new office within the police department for Captain Dave Wayman; not once, twice. The labor and materials along with the manpower needed to construct these offices, well over $30,000 when one already existed. A waste of tax $$$$. Don't even get us started on the amount of overtime Capt. Wayman billed.