Mercer County Responds To Citizens Finance Advisory Committee Analysis
To the Editor:
In the story, “Finance Committee Study Finds Mercer County is a Big Spender” [Town Topics, Feb. 20], the assertion that Mercer County outspends its peer counties in every category is misleading based on the Citizens Finance Advisory Committee’s (CFAC) own report. CFAC failed to consider Mercer County’s unique distinction of being home to our state capital, Trenton. The honor of hosting our state government comes with a cost: the state of New Jersey owns more than $1 billion in property, or well over one-third of all tax-exempt property in the city, and this is a burden shared by all Mercer County residents.
Also not considered in the report is the benefit of Trenton-Mercer Airport. While this publicly owned utility does increase our county taxes, the economic benefit the airport brings to the region is substantial. A 2016 Rutgers University Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy study on the airport concluded the economic benefit to the regional economy was more than $100 million. Left out too was mention of the revenue generated by our award-winning Mercer County Park Commission, which through four golf courses, a tennis center, equestrian center, festival grounds, skating rink, and nature center, entertains more than two million visitors each year who contribute to the county’s vigorous tourism trade.
Other per capita benchmarks noted in the CFAC study included expenditures for Public Safety — which accounts for more than 50 percent of our budget — and our Special Services School District, along with other essential services such as maintaining roads and infrastructure, providing 911 dispatch services, eliminating veteran homelessness, and feeding our senior citizens, all of which are among the services Mercer County residents value.
Providing services costs money and we do everything we can to try to reduce the tax burden on all our residents. Using 2013 as a benchmark — the first year after Princeton’s consolidation — records show that from 2013-2016, Princeton residents actually had a lower county tax rate than Trenton residents, a fact that might surprise some.
Overall, Mercer County affords its residents an unmatched quality of life marked by superb transit access, abundant history, vibrant arts and culture, and thousands of acres of parkland and open space. With five institutions of higher learning, including the world-renowned Princeton University, Mercer County is rich with talent, which is instrumental in Mercer having one of the healthiest economies in the state, as evidenced by the November 2018 unemployment figure of 2.7 percent, the lowest in almost 30 years.
While I appreciate CFAC’s analysis, it fails to consider conditions unique to Mercer County. As host to state government and an important urban core, Mercer County sits apart from the peer counties identified in the advisory committee analysis. County tax dollars are put toward making Mercer an even better place to live and work. As a regional government, we are committed to sustaining the quality of life of our residents, while carefully managing our finances.
Brian M. Hughes, Mercer County Executive