Monday, April 8, 2019

We Need To Decrease Property Taxes

New Jersey pollsters routinely identify property taxes as the primary concern of residents.  In Plainfield the story is similar with a local twist.  I like to think that our local version of pollsters
are candidates for office going door to door asking residents about their issues.  I used to hear public safety and potholes as the leading concerns.  "Early returns" this election season have property taxes in front.  And that is even more concerning to senior citizens I've spoken with.

New Jersey property taxes are the highest in the nation.  But Plainfielders do not care that they are in good company.  They care that they cannot afford the taxes.  Seniors on fixed incomes in particular are forced to move to other towns and states, away from their circle of supportive friends and neighbors. 

The challenge to decrease property taxes is daunting.  So much so that I propose we take this on as a multi-year project beginning with the 2019 municipal budget.  The city administration is presenting the City Council with an annual budget tonight, April 8.  Once the Council receives the budget it is our responsibility to make any changes we see fit to make and then approve it.  It is perhaps the most important decision of the year for Council.

The administration budget proposes to increase expense less than 2% from 2018.  This is in part due to increased pension costs.  But decreased tax ratables means the Council faces a municipal property tax increase of 3.5%.  Lower ratables comes from successful taxpayer appeals and means that the rest of the taxpayers take on a bigger share of the tax burden.  (It is a misconception that developer tax breaks are causing Plainfield taxes to go up .  In fact all of the developers receiving those incentives are still paying the city more than the previous taxes on the properties they are developing).

Where does this leave us?

The City Council will have to take a hard look at 2019 expenses.  Police and fire division overtime pay is an example.  Reducing expenses requires painful decisions that are bound to upset some constituencies.  But that is what Council members agreed to take responsibility for with the oath of office.

We will have to learn from what other cities have done.  Some in New Jersey have reduced property taxes.  It is what our residents need and require.  It will also make us more business friendly.  More commercial development and investment by current businesses will increase our tax ratables, taking on some of the burden from residential property taxes. We need to reduce property taxes.

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