Princeton Township Committee, convening for a special midday session Monday, announced its unanimous opposition to a bill up for a vote in both the state Senate and Assembly calling for an end to so-called home rule and urging consolidation of municipal services, or even government, where applicable, in a sweeping effort to reduce rising property taxes.
Committee members did not challenge the bill's motives, rather, the concern lay largely as to the burden the bill (A-15 in the Assembly, S-38 in the Senate) could place on municipalities.
"This is poor public policy," said Township Deputy Mayor Bernie Miller, calling the pending bill a "subterfuge" that shifts the problem onto the municipality.
"The state should step up."
Mr. Miller is not alone. A recent New Jersey State League of Municipalities survey indicated that a majority of mayors surveyed are supporting a special citizens tax convention that would examine potential solutions to rising property taxes.
According to the Star-Ledger, the average tax bill in the Township in 2006 was $13,987, up 61.7 percent since 2000, when the average was $8,635. Similarly, in the Borough, the 2006 average tax bill of $12,636 was a 58.5 percent jump up from 2000, when the average tax bill was $8,114.
The Township's primary point of contention with the proposed bill, whose vote was held off Tuesday and has yet to be rescheduled, was the indication that state aid would be withheld if municipalities failed to recommend consolidation, a concern that was backed by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton Borough), who said he opposed the bill in its current form. In addition to Mr. Gusciora, the resolution specifically addresses Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing), and Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence) in urging state legislators to vote against the bill.
Committee also urged legislators against the bill's recommended creation of a State Consolidation Commission composed of commissioners appointed by the state. "Current state law already provides for a consolidation study process which involves the election of local consolidation committee members who are residents of the affected municipalities," read the resolution.
The Township also opposed a proposed 4 percent cap on increases to the local tax rate, potentially removing "the ability of municipalities to balance their short and long term financial service goals.
"In the face of unbridled interest arbitration awards, health benefit and pension increases, energy costs, and unfunded mandates from the State and Federal government, over which we have no control, municipalities will be forced to draw out of their reserves," the Township's resolution read.
Committee members did, however, support a proposed 20 percent property tax reduction, but only on the condition that the reduction is made in full up to $250,000, and that the source of the funding is determined in advance.
One portion of the resolution that was ultimately removed from consideration was a tentative rebuke of Gov. Jon Corzine's call for a state comptroller and the potential costs associated with the creation of that office.
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