What's in a name? Just check your property tax bill

January 07. 2013 3:00AM

By NJBIZ Staff

It might seem like an excessive amount of celebration, but the consolidation of Princeton township and borough into one municipality was an on-again, off-again process that has been in some form of development for six decades.

So let them eat cake — if they want, all seven of the “consoli-cakes” donated by a local bakery to mark the momentous occasion, which became official on New Year’s Day.

In accomplishing what so few towns have been willing to do, the Princetons overcame the home-rule mentality that’s helped drive property taxes skyward. A state as small as New Jersey has no need for 566 — now 565 — municipalities, many small, many with their own police and fire forces, sanitation crews, teachers, and other government employees. It cost millions to line up the stars — but estimates from annual staffing cuts alone are into the millions of dollars.

The idea of home rule is a popular one in New Jersey, but so is the idea of high property taxes. We don’t mean to say consolidation is the passe-partout by which one unlocks instant property tax savings, but in a few years, when Princeton has sorted out the kinks and it has those shared services fully operational, the cost of living will fall. How dramatic a drop we’re talking about is an open-ended question, but any kind of decrease should be welcome news to New Jersey’s other 564 municipalities. It’s just part of the remedy that New Jersey needs to swallow before the cost climate can improve.

Now, it will be up to other towns to decide if civic pride — and the prestige and panache of incorporated names like Elk, Pilesgrove, Oldmans and Ho-Ho-Kus — outweighs the costs of going it alone. We hope Courage to Connect and other groups advocating such consolidations use the Princeton story as a rallying point for other towns — in fact, regions — to at least take up the process of studying the costs of coming together, and the long-term benefits of doing so.


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