There’s a fee to wear that cap
There’s an interesting piece in today’s Bergen Record on fees charged by municipalities to businesses and residents as a way to get around the 2.5 percent cap on property taxes.
That report, included in today’s NJBIZ Morning Roundup, looks at North Jersey towns that have instituted or increased fees to plug municipal budget gaps. The worst offender, according to the paper, looks like Passaic; its fire department apparently presents you with a $600 bill if it puts out your burning car. No word as to whether there’s a discount if cash-strapped town councilmen are the ones starting the fires.
I wasn’t alone in really socking it to Medford a while back, when it was asking residents, for the second year in a row, to approve a property tax increase. But at least officials asked — or, really, threatened, saying fees were on the way if they didn’t get what they wanted.
Municipalities really need to look at overhead that could be sorted out through consolidation before immediately dipping into the wallets of residents and local businesses. But Chris Christie’s attitude isn’t helping things along, either.
From the article:
“We didn’t work as hard as we did to get the cap in place to allow some ingenious lawyers at the municipal level to get around it,” Christie said recently. “So we’ve now had a year to watch them come up with their ways to go around it and we’ll now plug the holes.”
He wants to make local fees subject to the same 2.5 percent rule as property taxes, which is excellent in practice. Problem is, the state is continually skimming off money that should go to local governments and keeping it to plug state holes, such as in the case of local utility taxes.
There’s shame on both sides here, but accountability starts at the top. Legislators shouldn’t be talking about tax cuts until they make state revenue cover the whole state budget. We’re all for lower taxes, but they have to make fiscal sense. If income taxes are cut 10 percent, but property taxes go up 2.5 percent and fees are more plentiful than paper bags at a Nets game, it just becomes a talking point for an ambitious governor. That’s bad news for New Jerseyans.
I’m even more irreverent on Twitter @joe_arney.