June 22, 2005

Freeholders Look to Voters to Bail Them Out of Tax Hole

What have they been waiting for???

Seems as though property taxes have become the hot topic of conversation almost every where you turn, at the train station during the morning commute, backyard barbeques, the grocery store, anywhere where more than two people are together.

It no longer seems to be impolite to ask, “what were your property taxes last year?” These days, people actually give up the figure. Once told, the inquirer usually responds with “that’s nothing mine were." There is no doubt about it, NJ residents are becoming obsessed with their tax bills, which is understandable because they are financially hemorrhaging and in some cases are bailing out.

It is obvious that taxes will be the focus of the upcoming elections in November as they were in the recent primary. Every candidate has a plan, and is sure that their plan is the magic bullet that will slay this dragon and they will be the modern day St. George.

The push for a Constitutional Convention is presented as the cure all for our property tax ills on the premise that New Jersey’s method of funding government services was set in place 58 years ago and a lot has changed since then. In fact our county freeholder board is saying just that in press releases and articles put out by Freeholder Dan Sullivan, the current chair of the board’s fiscal committee. The board has even passed a resolution supporting a Constitutional Convention and is urging the county’s representatives to the state Senate and Assembly to vote yes and get a question regarding a convention on the ballot this November.

What is laughable is that when this board talks about property taxes in Union County increasing by 52 percent over the last decade they seem to have forgotten who has been sitting there running things for the past 10 years. Rather than take responsibility for their out-of-control spending, they blame the cost of local services for driving up property taxes. This explanation of their spending over $1 million per day is lame.

They say that a convention can explore shared services, spending reforms and eliminate state mandates. Truth be told local government, both county and municipal, already has the power to enact two out of three of these remedies; so what have they been waiting for? When putting together this year’s budget why did they not get to task and cut $40 million rather than increasing it $40 million? Would this not have been a starting point to provide some immediate relief to county residents?

When pondering the property tax issue a simple solution jumps to the forefront and that is: curb-your-spending! Our county government would do well to look at private industry for some pointers, but than that wouldn’t make an exciting campaign press release. And let’s face it, that might alienate some of their financial supporters who appear to be the benefactors of their largess on the backs of the tax payers.