Saturday, October 29, 2016

Is Reducing Property Taxes on your Bucket List?

I will never forget the first time I met Fred Lange. I spoke about municipal consolidation as a guest speaker at the Unitarian Church in Plainfield. After my presentation, a man wheeling his wife in a wheel chair came up to me and blew me away. 

He said, "I am 81 years old and before I die, I want to see a municipal consolidation study done  with my town Scotch Plains and Fanwood. We share a school district and Scotch Plains practically surrounds the entire town of Fanwood."

All the time people come up to me to say the things they will do and promise to make something happen. It is easy for someone to say they will get back to you.  Fred Lange did. 

Wisely, Fred canvassed both towns door to door asking residents of Scotch Plains and Fanwood if they would support looking into municipal consolidation to save taxpayer money. With over 92% approval of the idea from residents, Fred reached out to Courage To Connect NJ. 

Fred had the perseverance to use the 2007 law which allows taxpayers to form a consolidation study commission. He gathered petitioners, got the required signatures from each town, sent an application to the state, held three meetings for local input, and testified before the Local Finance Board. 

On Sept. 12th 2012, Fred Lange received permission from the state to form a Scotch Plains/Fanwood Consolidation Study Commission. 

All before he died. 

Fred had the courage to withstand the headwinds of the status quo. The Fanwood Mayor used her power every step of the way to stop, undermine and lash out at Fred. At the meeting to get state approval, the Mayor and her attorney in tow, testified that Fred mislead everyone who signed the petitions and did not know how to use the law. 

Fred held steady. He told the truth and used the law as it was intended. 

The law comes with financial support to pay for the study once a commission is formed. Sadly, the current Governor was not interested in supporting this effort and the law. With no money from the state, the Consolidation Commission disbanded after one year. 

Fred tried harder than most elected officials in NJ to look for ways to reduce our property taxes. 

Fred passed away recently, a NJ Hero who did what he said before he died. 

I am honored to have met and worked with Fred Lange for over four years. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

NJ Breaking News- The Hills wants Out

The Hills Condo Development located in both Bedminster and Basking Ridge, has applied to the State of NJ to become its own town. 

The residents cite 'Local Control' as the main reason and a close second is they want their own Police Dept. 
Ralph, who serves as a Separation Commisioner says, "It will make the police much more responsive just because 'The Hills Police Department' is on the side of the SUV when it passes our houses."
Ralph is on a rant, "We want our own Town Hall with employees and parking. Enough of these special assessments and HOA fees, we want to pay high taxes only. Enough of a volunteer condo board, we want a paid Mayor and Council with full medical benefits!!"

The State of NJ's response by a DCA representative who wants to remain anonymous says, "This is NOT 1895 when anyone could just form a town for any silly reason. We can't go back to splitting Chester and Chester Boro and Mendham and Mendham Boro and Washington and Washington Boro, it was like cloning local governments back in the 19th century. It is 2016 and times have changed."

But the Hill's Development 'Separation Commission Chair' cites the over 400 towns that are incorporated in 2016 with fewer than the Hill's 4,728 Households. How ridiculous is it that Loch Arbour is a town and only has two blocks? They have a Mayor and a Governing body. Why can't we???"

The Chair Suzie Beecham continues, "If we are going to pay increasingly Higher taxes, than we want TOTAL Local Control!! We want to solve our Two town Identity issues once and for all.  And I want to be Mayor." Don't you think Mayor  Beecham sounds better then a Chair. 

Sounds like a plan from 1895. 

Hopefully this fable made you laugh at why NJ has 565 local governments. Then you can cry when you get your next tax bill.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The 2% Property Tax Cap gets an F

In 2011 the legislature and Governor enacted a 2% tax cap on all municipalities in the state. They bragged at the time about now we have real "tax reform" in NJ. 
Here are the facts. 225 towns exceeded the cap in 2012 and last year 334 towns have ignored the 2% tax cap. Sounds like an F. 

But things get worse when you see what every town is doing to hide the tax increases by exploiting the exemptions that are not included in the 2% tax cap. 
One example. If police departments purchase a new car that is inside the cap. If police departments purchase an SUV then it is outside the cap because they can bond for it. Thus we have a proliferation of police SUV's in every town costing the taxpayer more in price, interest payments, and vehicles that are gas guzzlers. Sound like tax reform yet?

Can things get any worse? Yes! Towns can sell their assets. Last year legislation was passed to allow for municipalities to privatize their PUBLIC water systems and waste water treatment centers. 
Now your town can sell your asset, building, land and service to a for-profit company. Oh and by the way, you pay for the purchase price, because the for-profit companies can include it in their monthly fees. And for those who love their "Home Rule" your voice and vote is not required. 
You have been silenced. 

Somehow Municipal Consolidation doesn't sound so scary. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How long would you take to save money?

If you could get a superior level of a critical service for less money, how long would it take you to switch to this service?
1) 1 week
2) 2 years
3) 20 years and counting

I don't want to answer for you, but the answer for governmental departments and towns is 20 years and counting. 

Here's an example from Milwaukee County in Wisconsin. 20 years ago 7 separate communities consolidated their 7 separate fire and EMS departments into 1 regional department that is offering a far better level of service than if they had stayed separate.  A regional approach allowed the single fire district to reduce financial expenditures annually and ease the need for tax increases the past 20 years. Below is a chart of how  creating a singe district reduced the number of stations, equipment and staff needed while providing a higher quality of service. 

                    7 districts  |  1 district 
Fire Stations        7                  5

Fire Trucks          31               15

Staff                    60               53

Regionalization has delivered on its promise.  Read their recent 20 year report 'Come Together:  An analysis of fire department consolidation in Milwaukee County's North Shore'

The report wonders why, in the last 20 years, there hasn't been any TALK about consolidating another fire district, police department, or school district in Wisconsin. 

Are you willing to look at getting better services for less cost?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Only in NJ can we turn a road to success into a dead end!

Are we ever going to control and reduce our property taxes in NJ? 
Not if our state won't give the same financial support to other towns that it gave to the Princetons' successful consolidation in 2013. 

The NJ State Legislature passed a law in 2007 giving taxpayers more power with the right to petition to form a state approved Municipal Consolidation Study Commission. This body has the task to study projected savings, the impact on services and define what the unified town would look like. An independent study is needed to assist the Commisioners in finding out the answers. Princeton received 50% of its funding from the state. 

The law is working as intended. 

If local mayors or governing bodies do not want to give up their positions and fiefdoms, then the taxpayers do not have to be held hostage. They can use this law. 

The law has been successful. 

2011- Cherry Hill and Merchantville formed a Consolidation Study Commission but was disbanded shortly after. No funding for a feasibility study from the state. 

2013- Scotch Plains and Fanwood petitioned and formed a Consolidation Study Commission but was dissolved a year later. No funding or support from the state. 

2015- Roxbury and Mt. Arlington have recently formed a Consolidation Study Commission to study for the first time in NJ a possible town and school merger. 

Is it possible that the state of NJ will not financially support taxpayers using their law?  Unfortunately YES. 

So the Princeton's will be the only towns in NJ to use this law?  No other towns can have the opportunity to build on the successful consolidation of Princeton. 

How short sighted can our state be? These taxpayers are not just complaining and grousing about their high property taxes but have put in years of effort to  petition, follow the law and create Consolidation Study Commissions only to have the state not do its part of the law. Fund the law!!
Fund the efforts of taxpayers!!

Are you outraged? 
Send your outrage to your legislators.  

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Power of NO, stopping ways to reduce property taxes NJ

Last month The Cordero Group released their preliminary report for Pennsauken Twp outsourcing their police service to the Camden County Police Department. The report concluded that there is "an opportunity to realize substantial economic savings while significantly enhancing police services".

So facing a $5.8 million a year savings for their taxpayers, the Pennsauken Mayor and governing body unanimously rejected consideration of the County Police bid. 
Really!! No counter proposal. No negotiations. No looking further to explore a workable solution. 
No discussion period. 

What was the number they were looking for?

When was the last time Pennsauken paid
$8.2 million a year for salary, wages and benefits instead of the current $13.3 million? Twenty years ago? Talk about turning the financial clocks back. 

The report clearly  states that Pennsauken has too many officers and can reduce their force by at least 10 and actually improve service levels. The police can become more efficient in serving the community. 

So the story goes; 150 residents show up to a governing body meeting and voiced their objections. 150 out of 35,885 residents, said they liked their police department the way it is (status quo) and they would lose town identity.

How many of the 150 residents read the preliminary report? I have a number in mind. It is the second letter in NO. 
Is it possible that the 150 were stakeholders or friends of stakeholders, all putting a stake in the heart of reducing property taxes?
Did the governing body take into account the average household income is $65,900? They must believe the residents clearly have a lot of disposable income, especially after they pay the average $4,796 in property taxes. So Pennsauken taxpayers saving $57.5 million the next 6 years, is frankly, NO big deal. 
Can the Pennsauken Mayor and governing body ever again say that they are committed to reducing property taxes in their town??

I bet you they do!      Next election. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Some People Think I Am Crazy

When I tell people in any other state across the country that in NJ we have hundreds of K-8 school districts sending to regional high schools, they think I am crazy. 

When I speak with people in NJ about creating K-12 unified school districts for consistent curriculum and fiscal efficiency, they think I am crazy. 

When I speak with Mayors around the state, they say 'Shared Services' save money but consolidation does not. 

I say sharing a court saves thousands; consolidating the administration and police saves millions. 

Pick out the crazy one here. 

Residents say, 'I do not want to lose my town identity so I am opposed to consolidation. 

I ask, how many towns in NJ have a strong identity that is not the name of their government?
Let us ask the residents of Basking Ridge, Allendale, Oakhurst, Martinsville,
Ortley Beach, Short Hills, Ewing, Ocean Grove, Menlo Park, Waretown, Sandy Hook, Colonia etc... (There are about 920 more but I will not bore you.)

All of these distinct, identifiable towns have a different name than their government. They can be found on GPS and highway signs.  They have their own zip codes and mailing addresses, fire departments, train stations, beaches, separate business districts and schools with their names, parades and town flags. 

So now who is crazy?  Not me.