Category Archives: property taxes

Monmouth Freeholders adopt weak State pay-to-play rules, abandon stronger County rules in place since 2008

Fortunately, former Monmouth County Freeholder Amy Mallet is still on the job as a outspoken member of the public. The Middletown Patch reported on 1/31/12 that this year’s all-GOP Freeholder Board voted unanimously last week to loosen the County’s pay-to-play rules, and Amy was there to call them on it!

In a vote on Jan. 26th, the Board chose to abandon the tougher County pay-to-play rules for the lax State ones. The reason given by the Board is that contractors were confused by the County rules. However, many other municipalities and counties have the stronger pay-to-play rules in place, so contractors doing business in other towns would already be familiar with them.

The Board’s decision opens the door to rewarding politically connected persons and businesses with County contracts. The move weakens competition and may have the direct effect of increasing property taxes in line with higher contract costs. It’s hard to imagine why any ethical publicly-minded governmental body would do such a thing, unless for personal benefit. It appears the Board members have chosen to grant themselves the latitude to direct contracts at will to ensure their pockets will be lined at election time.

State Comptroller Matthew Boxer said himself that the State pay-to-play law does nothing to prevent the practice by local governments. In September 2011, he released a 20-page report “blasting the law for being toothless” as NJ.com put it.

The effectiveness of Christie’s Tool Kit at holding down property taxes would be vastly improved if it closed the loopholes in the State’s pay-to-play law. But until that happens, it is incumbent upon local governments to do what’s right by having strong pay-to-play rules of their own.

Public advocacy group The Citizens Campaign is calling for the public to attend the Monmouth County Freeholder meeting on Feb. 9th, when the Board will be asked to reinstate the stronger pay-to-play policy. For details, check out their facebook page and if you can, make plans to attend.

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Filed under Amy Mallet, Facebook, Middletown Patch, Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, NJ.com, pay-to-play, property taxes, the Citizens Campaign

Letter: Taxes Sky High in Middletown

The Following letter to the editor appears online today over at the Atlantic Highlands Herald:

Have you heard that the Middletown’s mayor and his running mate want to hold the line on taxes? Hold it where, exactly? Somewhere in the stratosphere?

I think the joke’s on us. Municipal taxes have gone up over 22% just during Mister Fiore’s 3-year term in office. Mr. Fiore voted for tax increases every year. Based on his record, I think we can expect more of the same.

Republican candidates keep talking about making Middletown an affordable place to live, and then keep doing the opposite once they’re elected. You’d think they’d be too red in the face to keep talking about it.

Mr. Fiore doesn’t seem to feel responsible for our high taxes since he is always talking about forces beyond his control. Well, that doesn’t inspire my confidence in his ability, and I won’t be voting for him.

I think it’s time we had representatives who stopped making excuses and brought sound judgment to the job. Jim Grenafege has been a voice of reason for many years now. He is both informed and vocal about issues that are important to residents. Jim strongly supports televising town meetings so that we can all see what our local government is doing. He also feels the Township desperately needs the oversight of a Finance Committee, which almost every other town has. After seeing taxes double in such a short time, I have to agree with him.

Please join me in supporting Jim Grenafege for Middletown Township Committee this Election Day.

William G. Butler
Middletown, NJ

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Filed under Atlantic Highlands Herald, Carol Fowler, Finance Committee, Jim Grenafege, letter to the editor, property taxes, Tony Fiore

Letter: Middletown GOP to blame for poor fiscal policies

The following letter appears online today at the Asbury Park Press:

In his Oct. 21 letter, “Real solutions to problems put Middletown on right track,” Mayor Anthony Fiore admitted that Middletown government is derailed. I could not agree more.

True to form, he falsely blames years of excessive spending, unnecessary bonding, escalating taxation and debt, all cradled in Republican mismanagement, on the Middletown Democrats who somehow magically made elected Republicans spend our tax dollars. This is just more empty rhetoric to go with decades of empty promises.

After Fiore strong-armed $500,000 from library funds, took $350,000 for the second year in a row from sewerage authority fees and used $1.3 million in public education funds, his so-called fiscal discipline required a 12 percent tax increase to cover $45 million of a $62 million budget. This lack of incumbent Republican fiscal discipline has Middletown looking at a projected $2 million shortfall for 2012.

Ask Mayor Fiore if he has a real solution. Past Republican practice points at raising taxes. During his term, he has contributed 22 percent to a 40 percent increase in taxes over the last five years. Past practice also points at adding to our $70 million debt, which has increased 66 percent over the same five years.

Finally, at least $2.4 million of $4 million in “cuts” claimed by Mayor Fiore were onetime nonrecurring expenses that were never part of the 2011 budget.

Put a stop to more than 30 years of poor fiscal policy and borrowing. Please help our community get back on track. Vote for James Grenafege and Carol Fowler.

James Grenafege

Middletown Township Committee candidate

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Filed under Asbury Park Press, Jim Grenafege, letter to the editor, Middletown Democrats, Middletown Library, Middletown Sewerage Authority, property taxes, Republicans, Tony Fiore

>AS a Matter Of Fact…Busting the myth: The real numbers show N.J. is not the most overtaxed state in the nation

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By Mary E. Forsberg and Deborah Howlett
June 26th, 2011

Perhaps you’ve heard a politician or two, in an accusatory tone, declare New Jersey has the highest taxes in the nation. It’s become a rallying cry for the current administration. It is repeated as an indisputable fact by the media. But mostly it just sounds right to people, perhaps because it so neatly fits the cynical narrative of government waste, fraud and abuse.
The thing is, it’s not true.

Consider this from a recent press release by the Connecticut House Republican Party:
“Connecticut residents already pay the highest taxes in America.”
Or this from the Buffalo News editorial page: “New York is the most overtaxed state in the nation.”
Nope. According to the Orange County chapter of the Lambda Alpha economics society, “California is the most overtaxed state in the nation,”
And from a conservative pundit in Chicago: “I live in Illinois … the most overtaxed state in the union.”
But wait. There’s another. The vice chair of the Maine Republican Party has said, “Maine is currently the most overtaxed state in America.”
They can’t all be right.
For the record, New Jersey ranks eighth among all states when state and local tax revenues are compared as a percentage of taxpayer’s personal income, according to an analysis using data from the U.S. Census and the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis. It’s the cleanest comparison of the tax “burden” in all 50 states. New Jersey’s ranking drops considerably once you get past property taxes and look only at state tax collections.
Simply comparing total revenue collected from taxes in each state would produce a wholly inaccurate comparison because poorer, less-populated states would always appear to tax less. Measuring as a percentage of personal income, or on a per capita basis, provides necessary
context and a more accurate comparison among states.
Consider the big three state revenue sources in New Jersey — income, corporate and sales taxes — and then size up property taxes.

Income tax


On a per capita basis, New Jersey ranks seventh among states for income tax revenues, according to U.S. Census data. As a percentage of personal income, New Jersey ranks 19th among states.
It’s important to understand New Jersey is consistently at the top of lists that rank states in terms of median income and millionaires (those with at least $1 million in investable or liquid assets) as a percentage of households.
With all that wealth, the state also has a progressive income tax that collects significant amounts of its revenue from the wealthiest in the state and virtually none from the poorest, such as married couples whose incomes are less than $20,000 ($10,000 for a single person).
The progressive aspect of New Jersey’s income tax has evolved since the state’s first 2 percent flat tax was enacted in 1976. Public opinion polls show a vast majority approve of raising rates levied on income that exceeds $1 million a year.
Other states also have local income taxes. Philadelphia, for example, levies a 3.928 percent wage tax on residents and a 3.4985 percent wage tax on nonresidents on top of the state’s 3.07 percent flat income tax. Cities in New Jersey are barred from imposing income taxes on workers.
Corporate Tax

Corporate taxes in New Jersey rank ninth as a percentage of personal income and sixth when measured per capita.
New Jersey took in a little more than $2 billion in fiscal year 2010 from corporations, or 7.5 percent of all revenue collected by the state. However, 93 percent of the 252,000 corporations subject to New Jersey’s corporate business tax paid the state less than $2,000 each. Corporate revenues for the year surpassed $24.6 billion.
Sales Tax

Comparing revenue from the sales tax puts New Jersey 19th on a per capita basis and 36th when measured as a percent of personal income.
The state sales tax is often cited as one of the highest in the nation because of its 7 percent rate. However, it is applied more narrowly than sales taxes are in many other states.
Food, clothing and gas are exempt, for example. Depending how one looks at it, that is a loss to the state or a savings to taxpayers of about $2.6 billion.
Nor does New Jersey allow cities or counties to collect local sales taxes, which many other states allow.
Montgomery, Ala., levies a 10 percent sales tax (4 percent state; 6 percent local) on everything sold, including food.
In Georgia, a 12 percent combined state and local sales tax is the norm in some areas of the state.
Property Taxes

What’s abundantly clear, however you slice the data, is that New Jersey ranks among the top one or two states in the nation when it comes to property taxes, which are the only real source of revenue for local government in the Garden State. Last year, property taxes produced $25 billion in revenues, exceeding revenue from the state’s three major taxes.
* * *
In total, as a percentage of personal income, taxes in New Jersey rank about eighth among all the states. Considering it ranks near the top for median income and wealth, that designation hardly seems out of line.
But those are not the numbers pushed by anti-tax zealots. Groups such as the conservative Tax Foundation have cited New Jersey as having the highest tax burden in the nation, using a convoluted formula that doesn’t quite parse the intricacies of local tax laws.
For example, the Tax Foundation charges back to New Jersey the $2.6 billion in income taxes paid to New York by New Jersey residents who work in New York and must abide by New York tax laws, over which New Jersey has no control.
By the way, that $2.6 billion is not just a blip in the data. It is more than New Jersey collects from its corporation business tax, the state’s third-largest revenue source, and it is one of the largest income transfers from one state to another in the country.
All of this just points to the need to be careful when citing state rankings.
Some, such as the Tax Foundation’s, only obscure real facts because they allow politicians to cherry-pick data and use them to justify their political philosophy.
So the next time you hear someone say New Jersey is the most overtaxed state in the nation, look past the rhetoric and consider the real numbers behind the statement.

Check out the tax data tables here.

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Filed under corporate taxes, Debrorah Howlett, income taxes, New Jersey, New Jersey Policy Perspective, property taxes, sales tax, tax burden

>Sweeney: Gov. Christie’s tools aren’t the sharpest in the shed

>NJ Senate President Stephen Sweeney has written the following article that appears online this morning on NJ.com. It’s a must read for anyone who thinks that Governor Christie’s “Tool Kit” is the be all, end all solution that will control the rise of property taxes in the state.

Of the 33 bills in the Governor’s “tool kit”, Sweeney rightfully points out that some of them overlapped and were combined to form 24 and later reduced again to by the Governor when he finally realized that proposals about higher education would do nothing to lower property taxes, leaving 20.
Sweeney points out that the Legislature has passed 8 of the 20 bills thus far, the 2% cap on property tax increases and arbitration reform for police and fire contracts being the key pieces passed. While 2 other bills dealing with civil service reform and a cap on sick-leave payouts were passed by the Legislature but vetoed by the Governor. Sweeney then goes on to tell how many of the remaining “tool kit” reforms will do little to bring down property taxes.
So the next time anyone has to hear Republicans in Middletown chastise Democrats in Trenton for not acting on the “tool kit” and saying that these reforms are necessary so that they can control themselves from overspending, I think Sweeney’s article should be read into the record and see what comments, if any Tony Fiore, Gerry Scharfenberger or the others have to say:

The governor has blamed everything and everyone for the highest property tax increase in four years. He continues to state that if only his “tool kit” were passed, New Jersey’s property tax problems would magically disappear.


Closer scrutiny of the governor’s kit proves his claims are false and are merely meant to distract from his own culpability in property tax hikes. The governor cut more than $2.4 billion in funding to schools and municipalities last year. That is why your taxes are going up. The tool kit will not make up that shortfall.

There are reforms that must be implemented, such as pension and health benefits reforms, which I have supported since 2006. I am committed to getting those done. But those reforms are not — and never were — part of the governor’s proposed tool kit.

First, let’s have truth in numbers. The governor started by saying there were 33 bills in the tool kit. Actually, there were 24 after items were combined. Now the governor says there are 20, because he finally realized that four proposals dealing with issues at colleges and universities have absolutely nothing to do with property taxes.

The Legislature did pass eight tool-kit items. First was the creation of the 2 percent cap on annual property tax increases, which the Legislature lowered from the 2.5 percent cap the governor initially proposed. Second was arbitration reform for police and fire contracts, which was heralded across the state by local officials as key to reining in property taxes.

Two others — comprehensive civil service reform and a cap on sick-leave payouts for public employees upon retirement — were passed and sent to the governor, who vetoed them. We have no reform in these two areas because the governor chose to kill reform.

Civil service needs to be reformed and modernized, but abolishing it will not lower property taxes. Only one-third of New Jersey towns are bound by civil service rules, and those towns actually have lower property taxes per capita than towns without civil service. Civil service was established to protect against political corruption and nepotism. It is puzzling that the governor wants to completely eliminate this protection.

Sick-leave payouts should be capped, but the governor vetoed a bill to do that because he wants to take away benefits workers have already earned. That may be a nice talking point, but it won’t stand up in court. And it would create a flood of new retirements as workers cash out before the law would take effect. If the governor got his way, this tool would actually cost taxpayers even more.

Two other parts of the tool kit are already in comprehensive shared services legislation I am sponsoring with Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt and Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, which goes far beyond what the governor envisioned, and which will move through the Legislature later this spring.

These are the only parts of the tool kit that will save you money on your property tax bill. We did them. The handful of remaining bills that the governor clings to won’t save you anything.
One would cap spending on state government operations — which already exists under law, and even if it did not, would have no impact on local property taxes. Another would allow local governments to use furloughs to save money — which they already can do as long as furloughs are negotiated.

Another bill to centralize all power over civil service decisions in the Civil Service Commissioner (read: czar) would only consolidate the governor’s power and do nothing to lower property taxes.

One bill would move school and fire commission elections to November — a move whose total property tax savings, according to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Service, would be “minimal.”

Others would change the way some employee discipline measures are handled (OLS estimated savings: $140,000), require the mailing of only one sample ballot per household (OLS estimated savings: $1.4 million), and allow municipalities to offset property tax delinquencies against state income tax refunds (OLS estimated net savings: zero).

The governor’s rhetoric does not stand up to simple math. The tool-kit bills that haven’t yet been passed offer no real help from New Jersey’s crushing $25 billion property tax burden.

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Filed under 2% cap, arbitration reform, civil service, Gov. Chris Christie, NJ State Senate, NJ.com, property taxes, Stephen Sweeney, tax saving tool, toolkit

>The Middletown Library is no Sewerage Authority

>by guest blogger Linda Baum

So some think the Library should offer money to the Township because the Sewerage Authority did? Now let’s think about that.

First, let’s be clear that right now your sewer fees are not part of your property taxes – you pay them separately. Those fees go straight to the Sewerage Authority, bypassing the town budget. Now consider that if sewer services were housed under the Department of Public Works – where they should be – the town would save a bundle by the consolidation and those fees would be rolled into your property taxes. Then the surplus would flow back to the township anyway because the revenue would be part of the town’s budget.

Another line of thinking is that the Sewerage Authority should return surplus money to residents, not the town, because you pay these fees directly. And shouldn’t some part of the surplus go back to the other towns (Highlands and Atlantic Highlands) that pay to use our sewer services? The Sewerage Authority could argue that it has never been the practice to return monies, so therefore there is no need to now. They could also argue that they are an independent body and can do as they please, including continuing to operate on a for-profit basis.

And now one more point. The services that the Library provides cannot be compared to sewage treatment. The Library is the heart of the community. When you walk in, there is a feeling a warmth and family. There we can find the support we need for our personal and professional growth throughout our lives. And keep in mind, the library is funded in accordance with law. It is just that important.

Note:
Last year the Middletown Sewerage Authority (TOMSA) donated $365,000 of surplus funds to Middletown Township to help offset last years budget deficit, it is expected that this year TOMSA will contribute a comparable sum to the Township.

The question that should be answered here is; Are residents and other municipalities being overcharged by TOMSA, if so than shouldn’t surplus funds be returned to those that have been overcharged in the first place, not given to the Township of Middletown to help fill in budget deficits?

As Ms. Baum pointed out the counter argument is that the surplus is being returned to the residents through local property tax relief, but again what about the towns of Highlands and Atlantic Highlands that already feel they are being overcharged and have no recourse and are indirectly providing property tax relief to Middletown? – MM

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Filed under budget deficit, budget surplus, Middletown Library, Middletown Sewerage Authority, property taxes, save our library

>Middletown Refuses To Take Residents Money; Taxpayers Told Of Looming Tax Sales

>Does anyone have an extra $1500 cash or more lying around the house; if you do can you lend it to a neighbor? According to Middletown resident Dora Crisafulli, she was turned away from the Middletown Tax office yesterday (November 29, 2010) when she showed up to pay her property taxes. As it turned out she wasn’t the only one turned away, others who showed up Monday were also turned away.

Mrs. Crisafulli stated that when she arrived at the Middletown tax office Monday morning, there were several people in front of her, all waiting to pay their tax bills before the end of the month. Each resident was told that their payments were late and that their tax bill should have been paid by November 10th (since payments dates were adjusted a few months back to reflect the new bill payment schedule that require taxes due on the 1st of the month), each were told that only cash or certified cashier checks would be accepted as payment. No personal checks, credit or debit cards would be taken. According to Crisafulli, it seemed that a near riot would ensue as people were being turned away.

One elderly woman left the tax office in near tears when she couldn’t pay half of her tax bill by personal check with the remaining balance placed on a credit card. Others in line became angry and agitated at the situation, no one could understand the reasoning behind the sudden change in payment methods and they questioned who had that kind of money lying around?

When it was Crisafulli’s turn at the window she demanded to speak to the office supervisor (Crisafulli couldn’t remember her name) when she was not allowed to use her debit card to pay her taxes and found out that a late charge of nearly $60 was being added to her bill. She was told by the clerk that the supervisor was currently busy but could speak to her shortly. Mrs. Crisafulli let the clerk know that she expected to talk to the supervisor after she returned from the bank with cash.
Upon her return from the bank, Mrs. Crisafulli asked to speak to the office supervisor before paying her tax bill. When the supervisor came out to speak with Mrs. Crisafulli, she was probably sorry that she had, Crisafulli gave her an earful.

Crisafulli stated to me that she had asked why she and others had to pay by cash or by certified cashier’s check (which would have been subjected to an additional $15 bank service fee) when previous to this date other forms of payment were acceptable? She also questioned why she was charged and added misc. interest charge of $51.54 over the normal late interest fee of $8.04, which she had been paying since the Township change its payment cycle a few months earlier (Crisafulli stated that she was on a fixed income and doesn’t always have money available on the first of the month). Previously to the change, she had never been late with a tax payment and she would have paid her tax bill on Friday but the office was closed the day after Thanksgiving.

The woman that Mrs. Crisafulli spoke to informed her that the reason for the changes to the payment policy, was due to the upcoming Tax Lien sale that was being scheduled for late December (Crisafulli stated 12/28 but more than likely in January).

Anyone late in their tax payments, were being required to pay by either cash or certified check and the additional interest charge was for the purpose of processing the paper work for the upcoming tax sale and to place notices in the area newspapers.

After hearing this Mrs. Crisafulli was shaken and upset, she wanted to know how in the world Middletown could place a lien on her house and put it up for sale without her notice or her being delinquent in her tax payments; she never was and had ever been habitually late paying her taxes. She was mortified that her name would appear in the newspapers and that her neighbors would think that she was a tax cheat.

Only after the supervisor stated that she would check on Mrs. Crisafulli’s status, to see if her house was going to be included in the sale and notices, did Crisafulli make her cash payment and request a receipt.

Two hours later the phone rang in the Crisafulli’s house and the voice at the other end of the phone notified Mrs. Crisafulli that she was safe; her house wasn’t being subjected to the tax sale and no notice would be placed in the local newspapers.

Needless to say she was relieved to hear the news, but what about the others, who have been turned away over these last couple of days, have they been told of the upcoming tax sale and whether or not their homes would be included?

This is disturbing; I can’t imagine that Middletown would be so hard up for tax revenues that it would refuse to take late tax payments from residents unless those payments were made with cash. It is paramount to extortion, either you pay us in cash or we will but a lien on your house and then put it up for sale. How can this be possible, is this just a simple case of misunderstanding or is there something more to it? I have never heard of such a thing happening unless a property owner’s taxes were considered habitually past due. I also don’t understand why residents can’t pay with a credit card, the service fees that the banks charge the township are being passed onto the taxpayers, and the Township no longer absorbs those transaction fees. It just makes no sense.

Someone needs to question this before unknowing residents are hit with tax liens against their properties and find themselves in a court fight to keep their homes or businesses.

I placed a phone call to Middletown Committeeman Sean Byrnes last night to ask if he had known what was happing at the tax office. He stated that he did not but would contact Township Administrator Tony Mercantante, to inquire about it and get back to me.

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Filed under Middletown, property taxes, Sean F. Byrnes, tax liens, tax sale

>Anger Level Rises As Tax Bills Arrive Throughout Middletown

>I’ve been hearing a lot from Middletown residents over the past few days, it seems as though the new property tax bills are starting to show up in their mail boxes and they are not happy.

They are angry over the huge increase in the municipal tax rate that for many seems to be a 14% increase over last years bill.They are also angry at the deception that mayor Gerry Scharfenbegrer and those that are in the majority and have held power in Middletown for 3 generations are trying pull over on them.

To continually insist to residents that their tax TOTAL bill only increased by 2.67%, while true, is extremely misleading and downright dishonest. It is nothing more than a ploy to distract the less sophisticated residents around town that live their lives in a bubble from questioning what is really happening. For those people who are living in the bubble and for those who are not take a good look at your tax bill and the letter that accompanied it.

As I stated, yes the overall TOTAL tax increase to OUR tax bill is 2.67% but the total tax bill (Municipal, Schools and County combined) has risen by a total 4.00%.

That’s 2.67% for Middletown and 1.33% for school,county,open spaces, garbage…. Middletown’s municipal tax increase makes up 2/3’s of the total tax that is reflected in the tax bill.

You will notice that the letter of explanation that was enclosed with the tax bills does not state that a 13.99% increase in the municipal rate has occurred no matter how it is twisted, but it is clear to see that Middletown’s increase is easily twice that of the school increase while the County and Garbage taxes declined.

The only thing included in the letter that was clear and honest was the table that divided up the total $.07 cents per $100 increase to the total tax rate which showed that Middletown’s portion of that increase was $.048, which tells it all.

Middletown is fully responsible for nearly 69% of this years TOTAL tax increase to residents property tax bills.

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Filed under Middletown, municipal tax rates, property taxes, tax rate

>WHO REALLY CONTROLS MIDDLETOWN? AND WHAT ARE THEY DOING?

>I received today and interesting email from various Middletown friends and residents. Attached to the email was a well thought out article/letter that points out a number of issues that are effecting the Township of Middletown. The article itself was not signed by any individual so its author at this time, remains anonymous. I hope, that at some point the author steps forward because this person is directly on point with their assessment of the cronyism and the political games that take place here and contribute to the ever increasing local tax rate (its not just the schools that are driving the increasing property tax rate) and making it unaffordable for many to live in Middletown:

WHO REALLY CONTROLS MIDDLETOWN? AND WHAT ARE THEY DOING?

For years, the Democrats have maintained that the Township of Middletown was run more for the benefit of the local Republican Party and its supporters than for taxpayers. Questionable decision-making, political appointments and poor management of large-scale projects raised questions about whether important decisions were influenced more by party bosses than by taxpayers. Democratic efforts to open government and increase transparency were opposed, including opposing the televising of Township Committee meetings and passing a resolution that forced video cameras to the last row of the Township Committee Meeting Room. In this article, we examine this history by reviewing the last decade of decision-making by a Township Committee, which has been solidly in the control of the Middletown Republican Party. We emphasize that this critique focuses on the local Republican Party and the issues that concern Middletown taxpayers. We agree with many of the steps taken by Governor Christie, and Committeeman Byrnes has repeatedly stated his support for the Governor’s spending cuts. Indeed, we believe that the fiscally conservative ideals espoused by the Middletown Democratic Party cut across party lines. Although our political leanings are clear, the facts set forth below speak for themselves. If we are to survive this difficult financial crisis and hope for future prosperity, than we must reach across party lines and work together to cut taxes. But to be clear, we don’t think this Mayor and his supporters have what it takes to achieve that goal; and here’s why.

THE TAX MAN DOES NOT COMETH, HE IS HERE

Mayor Scharfenbeger with the support of 3 of his fellow Republican Committee members voted this July to increase the tax levy on the municipal portion of Middletown’s budget by 14% in 2010. This record-setting jump in the tax levy is unprecedented and comes at a time when many taxpayers in Middletown have suffered financial setbacks. Lost jobs, frozen wages, cut backs in hours coupled with increased costs of health care and flood insurance created a perfect storm of financial pressures on families. Despite these pressures, Mayor Scharfenberger, who sharply criticized the Board of Education budget, now proposes a budget that is far worse. Just this year, the Mayor: 1) refused to create a Finance Committee, 2) refused in January to bid out the Township’s Engineering work (instead handing it to the same politically connected firm that has had it since the 1970s), 3) refused to force the Township Attorney to work on a fixed retainer, 4) refused to commence layoffs or furloughs until late in the year, 5) refused to consider making the Arts Center self-sustaining, 6) refused to consider disbanding the overhead-laden Sewerage Authority which pays its Director (a former Republican Mayor) and its Commissioners pay, pension and health benefits worth almost $200,000 per year, and 7) refused to consider televising Township meetings to allow greater transparency in government. Since coming to office he has raised taxes in Middletown over 25%. The financial treasure of this Township — taxpayer dollars — have been used to perpetuate a political machine whose tentacles extend into every corner of government. Until that reality changes, the yearly tax increases will continue.

POLITICS LURKING IN THE SHADOWS OF A LAKE

In 2007, the Democrats had secured one seat on the Township Committee and were running 2 strong candidates. A victory for those 2 candidates would shift control of the Town government to the Democrats for the first time in decades. From the Republican side, something had to be done. In October, Just prior to the election, Mayor Scharfenberger and the Township Committee, in a 4-1 vote (Democrat Patrick Short the lone dissenter) voted to undertake a $4.0 million dollar project to dredge Shadow Lake. As someone who managed projects for a living, Mr. Short voted “no” because he had seen little evidence of a plan for the dredging and had many questions. The majority rushed this vote as part of a desperate effort to solidify Mayor Scharfenberger’s voting base in Shadow Lake Village. It worked well. Mayor Scharfenberger was narrowly re-elected, that well-connected engineering firm started spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars on the project, and the law firm of the Republican Party Chairman would get the bond work. Unfortunately, in their rush to get votes, the Republican Majority failed to plan for the proper staging and removal of the contaminated dredge spoils, resulting in DEP putting the brakes on the Project and cost estimates for the Project doubling. Today, the Project is essentially dead, the taxpayers are out the hundreds of thousands of dollars in engineering and surveying costs and the residents of Shadow Lake have nothing to show for it.

IF YOUR PROPERTY IS CONTAMINATED, SELL IT TO MIDDLETOWN, THEY’LL PAY TO CLEAN IT UP

Ever wonder where all the money goes from the bonds that Middletown approves for real estate purchases? Bond debt in Middletown went from $48 million in 2001 to $75 million in 2009. Well, first, the issuance of bonds, a complicated legal process, is handled by the law firm of Middletown’s Republican Party Chairman (the same law firm that does bond work for the County of Monmouth along with a paid lobbying contract worth around $100,000). After the law firm takes its cut for the bond work, your taxpayer dollars often purchase contaminated real estate. Consider some recent purchases. Middletown Arts Center (10 years to clean up), COE property (contaminated), and the Mariguchi property on Middletown Lincroft Road (contaminated), and the recently purchased property, adjacent to the municipal complex (contaminated). The municipal complex property, although not recently purchased, is (you guessed it) contaminated. In fact, the Department of Environmental Protection has been trying to get the Township to finish remediating this property for years. The beauty of buying contaminated property is that it allows your hand-picked, politically-connected lawyers and engineering professionals to continuously bill for years and years.

A POLITICAL TEMPLE TO THE ARTS

Middletown has a nice Arts Center at the Train Station. But at what cost? This building was the pet project of a former 17-year Republican Committee member, who served on a Middletown Township Committee with no Democrats, and therefore no opposition. (She is now a full-time County employee earning almost $90,000 whose pension calculation will include her 17 years with Middletown) With no one to question the plan, the all-Republican Committee voted to purchase the Banfield Property, which they knew was contaminated. Over the next five years or so, the Township spent, mostly through new bond issues, $581,803 to purchase the property, and $7,179,551 to improve it. That’s almost $8,000,000 just to get the Arts Center constructed. The Township then leased it to a non-profit for $1.00. The Township continues to support the expenses of the Arts Center. Even with the Township paying all the debt service for the bonds, the Arts Center has utilities and personnel costs in excess of $200,000 per year. And while all this was going on, taxpayers continued to pay our politically-connected engineering professionals tens of thousands of dollars to “handle” the effort to remediate the contaminated property. It took 10 years to remediate the property. Why the Township allowed the Seller to transfer this cleanup liability to the Township remains a mystery. But the greater mystery is why the Township would choose to spend precious taxpayer dollars on such an ill-conceived project.

SOMETHING SMELLS AT THE SEWERAGE AUTHORITY

How much do you now about the Township of Middletown Sewerage Authority? They maintain the waste water collection and treatment system for Middletown. You might be asking yourself why is the Sewerage Authority separate from the Township Government? It’s a good question. The Sewerage Authority has 7 Commissioners, who meet once per month for under an hour. Why does the Sewerage have two more members than the Township Committee, despite having a budget a fraction of the size? Another good question. These members are entitled to a small salary, pension and most important, health benefits. Health benefits for a family can be worth over $20,000 per year. Many Township residents have no health benefits or see money removed from every paycheck to pay for these expensive benefits. Patrick Short shamed the Township Committee into discontinuing health benefits for its members several years ago, but not the Sewerage Authority. In 2009, Committeeman Byrnes introduced an ordinance to eliminated salaries and health benefits for the Sewerage Authority. The Republicans initially blocked this effort and then introduced their own ordinance that purported to eliminate these benefits, but actually grandfathered existing Sewerage Authority Commissioners. The 7 Commissioners who received these benefits are active Republicans, including a former Mayor, party Treasurer, party Vice Chair, etc. Taxpayer dollars have been providing these individuals with the aforementioned benefits for years. Moreover, as long as the Sewerage Authority remains a distinct entity, separate from Township Government, it will need its own lawyers, auditors, outside engineers, etc., all at taxpayer expense. Efforts by Committeeman Byrnes to investigate a merger of the Sewerage Authority and Township Government have been opposed by Mayor Scharfenberger.

THE MAYOR’S ALL TALK ON TURF

As the largest municipality in Monmouth County, our recreations fields should be top notch. For anyone with children engaged in athletics, you know that they are not. The Pop Warner football fields need a major overhaul. Only the incredible efforts of volunteers keep these fields playable. And yet, the Township authorized funds to improve these fields in 2006. Once again, bonds were issued and the law firm of the Republican Party Chairman made money. But after that, nothing happened. Years passed, and as taxpayers paid the principal and interest on these bonds, nothing happened. Poor planning and mismanagement created hostility in the neighborhoods where work was planned. Finally, in 2010, the Township approached the Board of Education about installing turf at Thompson Middle School. When the Board of Education sought more detailed information about the scope of the work and usage of the fields, the Township ended its discussions and decided to build a new stadium complex on West Front Street without ever seeking local input. When citizens complained, the Mayor shifted gears and suggested that the current financial crisis made the project unworkable. The problem with that explanation is that the bonds were already issued, the funds have been received and the taxpayers are paying interest on those funds. So, after spending money on well-connected engineering firms for designs, etc., the taxpayers have nothing to show for this expense. Meanwhile, the fields at Croyden Hall and Trezza Field remain in poor condition. How come so many other towns in Monmouth County can build beautiful facilities with ample parking and turf fields? How many fields could have been improved with the $8.0M spent on the Arts Center?

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As this year’s election approaches, you might want to ask yourself whether you want to continue the management approach of the last decade. Ask yourself whether the record of the elected majority warrants your support. If you would like to continue the pattern of purchasing contaminated properties, increasing taxes, poorly maintained fields, an unnecessary, top-heavy Sewerage Authority and ill-conceived, expensive projects that reward party bosses, lawyers and politically-connected engineers, then vote for Mayor Scharfenberger and his hand-picked running mate.

As an end note I thougth that I should point out that in the above letter the author states that taxes have risen 25% since Scharfenberger has been in office which just so happens to be a conservative number, the true figure will be more accurately close to 42%, if the current budget passes as he has proposed.

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Filed under artificial turf fields, bond counsel, dredging, Gerry Scharfenberger, Middletown Cultural Arts Center, Middletown Township, property taxes, Sewage Authority, Shadow Lake

NJPP Monday Minute 7/12/10: The Cap: Is it really a solution to high property taxes?


Today the State Assembly passed the latest version of New Jersey’s newest attempt at a property tax limitation: a 2.0 percent hard cap on property tax levy increases that provides just four exemptions for exceeding the limit – health care costs, pension costs, debt and unforeseen crises. The bill represents a compromise worked out between Gov. Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney.

The Governor had been pushing for a 2.5 percent cap that would be written into the state constitution, which would virtually guarantee the cap would never be changed. The Governor also wanted to allow for only one exemption (for debt service) and wanted a 60 percent voter referendum to override the cap.

The amended legislation lowers the cap to 2.0 percent, but includes the additional exemptions listed above and requires a simple majority to override the cap. It also would be a statutory change, not a constitutional amendment – making it more likely that adjustments can be made if unforeseen problems arise.

This bill has moved like lightning. In typical New Jersey fashion, no fiscal analyses have accompanied the cap discussions. And there has been little acknowledgement that the state currently has a 4 percent cap enacted in April 2007 in a bipartisan vote. The current cap law was enacted for budget years after July 1, 2007 and was due to sunset on June 30, 1012. Written into the law was a requirement that the New Jersey Tax and Fiscal Policy Commission report on its effectiveness in controlling property taxes and make recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature on or before January 15, 2005.

In the frenzy of activity surrounding the Governor’s proposed Cap and Tool Kit, everyone has conveniently forgotten the months of hearings, public testimony, research and analysis that accompanied the 2006 special legislative sessions. There is more interest in rigid limits than in making changes that can result in rational policy changes. The lack of transparent policy analysis is what got New Jersey to where it is today; this cap bill is no different.

Discussions of this bill on the Senate floor last week centered on bringing “predictability and control” to property tax bills. And one part of the cap is predictable. The average tax bill in New Jersey is $7,281 on a house assessed at $290,502. A 2 percent increase in that bill is $145.62, payable at $12.14 in a mortgage over a 12 month period. What remains unknown, however, is what will happen when municipalities privatize garbage collection services; or when schools raise fees for sports or other extracurricular programs; or when municipal court costs go through the roof because of the increased traffic violations given out as revenue raisers.

The cap is the first shoe in the governor’s proposal.

Over the next few Monday Minutes, NJPP will analyze Gov. Christie’s “tool kit,” a bundle of 33 bills he is promoting as the second phase of his property tax strategy. Lawmakers are expected to hold public hearings on that legislation through the summer.

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Filed under Gov. Chris Christie, Monday Minute, New Jersey, New Jersey Policy Perspective, NJ State Assembly, NJ State Senate, property tax cap, property taxes, Stephen Sweeney