January 14, 2007

Passing the "Buck"


For years the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders have been taking a pass the buck approach to the property tax problem facing county residents. And though county government is currently in the process of its annual reorganization it is doubtful that the board will make any notable changes in their “modus operandi”. Rather, they will most likely proceed with business as usual simply because the cast of characters is the same and they will be not be changing anything other than their seating arrangement on the dais. So for those who are expecting anything new, anything daring, anything in the form of even an itty bitty cut in the county portion of their tax bill I am sad to say that based on past performance you can expect to be disappointed.

Within the next couple of weeks, County Manager, George Devaney, will be releasing his proposed spending plan for 2007, complete with a vague explanation of why county government needs to generate X number of dollars of additional income over last year. The board will cast sympatric gazes and heartfelt sighs will be heard as he explains that things have just gotten more expensive with certain costs such as health insurance for county employees going up considerably and of course, contractual obligations have made it impossible to come up with a lower figure.

He will conveniently leave out that certain individuals received bloated raises just weeks ago, and that about 68 new people were hired during a self imposed hiring freeze in ‘06. But alas, he will go back to the drawing board and do his best, "but you know the state is having the same problem."

It is predictable that Gov. Jon Corzine will be drawn into the equation complete with assurances that he will provide the silver bullet that will allow the county freeholders to lower county property taxes and we should just all be patient and wait for that glorious day.

The problem here is that we have a governor who two weeks ago, on the radio, during the teacher’s demonstrations in Trenton, referred to the voting residents of New Jersey who put him in office as “Joe Six-Pack”, this poor choice of words makes one wonder how much respect he actually has for those not as well heeled as himself.

Somewhere along the way and in Trenton especially two words have mistakenly become interchangeable; relief and reform. Tax relief can be thought of as the decongestant a doctor prescribes for a patient’s cold symptoms controlling the running nose till the two week/14 day infection runs its course and the patient is surely the hapless victim of another one. Tax reform on the other hand is like the vaccine administered for Polio, a permanent, life saving measure to eradicate the problem. So far no one has burst on the scene in NJ as the Jonas Salk of the property tax epidemic, certainly not Jon Corzine, though the all democratic freeholder board would like us to think otherwise. Using these maneuvers they put the responsibility of what is going on in their own backyard, Union County, on anyone other than themselves.

If the past few years are any indication of what is to come we will see the continuing blame game being played out on the 6th floor. Blame the contractual employees, blame the legislators in Trenton, blame the health insurance companies, blame the municipalities, blame Wal-Mart, blame George Bush, blame the custodian, blame the Union County Republicans, who by the way haven’t had a sitting freeholder in 10 years. But when one looks closely they are saying blame the voters who keep electing us because they apparently approve of the way we are doing things and are spending their hard earned money.

Perhaps the residents of Union County should look to place the blame on themselves because they are the ones who should be holding the freeholders feet to the fire, they are the eternal optimists who want to believe that this year will be different, this year they will do something about their out of control spending. But it is doubtful that things will change as the Freeholder Board has done an excellent job at pulling the taxpayers into playing their blame game.