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Sweeney: To hold down property taxes, N.J. towns must share services

Friday, January 13, 2017   (0 Comments)
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NJ.com 01/13/17

For middle-class families trying to make ends meet, there is no bigger issue than high property tax bills. Year after year, in good economic times and bad, property taxes rank as the top issue in virtually every poll, and with good reason. We rely more heavily on property taxes -- the highest in the nation -- to fund schools, counties and municipal services than almost every other state, and that regressive property tax burden falls more heavily on middle-class and low-income families than it does on our state's most wealthy taxpayers.

That's why we have to do everything we can to hold down property taxesThe tough 2 percent property tax cap law I sponsored in 2010 limits the growth in school, county and municipal spending, and the "senior freeze" program has helped keep senior citizens in their homes by eliminating annual property tax increases for those over age 62.  

 We have to do more. That's why I sponsored school funding reform legislation that would increase state aid by $500 million over the next five years to suppress property taxes and ensure that state school aid is distributed equitably from school district to school district.  And that is why I am pushing so hard to maximize the use of shared services by municipal governments -- which I proved can save significant tax dollars while serving as freeholder-director in Gloucester County. 

The Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee last month approved my legislation that would implement a "carrot and stick" approach by requiring municipalities to enter into cost-sharing agreements that are proven to save money or forfeit state aid equivalent to the amount of money that would have been saved if they had done so.

Implementing shared services at the local government level isn't easy. I have been fighting for this for more than 10 years and have the scars to prove it.  I continue this fight because shared services saves taxpayer money.

As freeholder director, I worked with Gloucester's county and local officials to create a countywide tax assessor's office in 2010 to replace the 24 separate municipal operations that were then in place. Each town hired its own assessor, usually on a part-time basis, paid their salaries and medical benefits, created their own tax maps and did their own revaluations. Sometimes towns went 20 years between revaluations, so new families ended up paying twice as much in property taxes as longtime residents did on similar homes.

By creating a single county tax assessor's office with full-time professionals, we were able to update property tax assessments countywide, and do it fairly.

Most important to Gloucester County taxpayers, we were able to provide better service for $2.3 million per year -- compared to the $4.3 million that taxpayers were paying on a town-by-town basis for the old system. Deptford, for example, not only saved $175,000 a year, but also saved the $1.2 million estimated cost of an overdue revaluation.

There is no question that the legislation I am pushing is controversial. But high property taxes are a major problem for everyone who cares about New Jersey. We need to make it easier for local officials to say yes to shared services to make New Jersey more competitive, affordable and prosperous.


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