WEST ORANGE, NJ – Mayor Robert Parisi gave a Power Point presentation to help educate West Orange citizens on taxes at Pleasantdale Elementary School March 11. A Question and Answer period followed the Power Point.
The presentation, entitled “Tax Facts: Understanding Your Taxes In West Orange, NJ”, highlighted the complexities of taxes and maintaining budget. “Everything we do, somehow it will always come down to taxes,” Mayor Parisi said. “It’s a very complicated issue. There’s a lot of people trying to do good things with the taxes.”
Mayor Parisi explained that Municipal government is “The balance between services and costs” and “balancing quality versus quantity services.” He pointed out that West Orange has had “the lowest municipal tax increase of any municipality in Essex county since 2008.” Over 500 towns have seen more tax increases than West Orange in the last six years.
The presentation highlighted how taxes are spent. “25% of your taxes are township related; 61% are Board of Education related; 14% goes to the County, and less than 1% goes to open space taxes.” The total proposed 2014 budget for West Orange is 73 million dollars.
Most of the tax dollars go into town needs. West Orange has 47,000 residents in 14,000 households with another 3,000 in apartments and condos. There are over 100 miles of roads and sewers, 496 commercial and industrial property owners, and 100 acres of land that the township owns and has to maintain. “We want to stabilize municipal taxes and provide quality services to the community while making sure the services are affordable,” Mayor Parisi said.
Some of the special qualities that are taken into account with West Orange’s budget is the unique services provided like garbage pickup, the senior services programs, and the five Jitney Shuttles for transportation. Residential properties represent 80% of West Orange’s tax base. West Orange doesn’t have the resources for taxes that other neighboring towns have. “Millburn can count on Short Hills malls, Livingston can count on Route 10 and Livingston Mall,” the mayor added.
Some of the residents in attendance were taken aback by the expenses. For example, gasoline prices are about 700,000 dollars a year, crossing guards cost around 600,00 a year, and salt for snow costs around 220,000 per year.
Mayor Parisi said there are substantial challenges in meeting objectives. Government mandates were one of the challenges acknowledged. Every court must have paid security in attendance according to law: a 60,000 dollar expense. The state no longer picks up dead deer off the roads, forcing West Orange to take responsibility and pay for those services. State library funding is also mandated by the government. Personnel get paid sick days, holidays, and time and a half as well. All this is a part of the tax budget.
“There aren’t a lot of ways to generate revenue in New Jersey”, the major said. “We don’t get a piece of lottery tickets, cigarette sales, or gas taxes. There’s not a lot of ways to raise revenue other than through taxation.” Two ways West Orange has gone about raising money in recent years are Hotel taxing and cell phone towers which generate hundreds of thousands of dollars combined.
To keep taxes lower, West Orange is participating in a HIF – or Health Insurance Fund. “By pooling with Bloomfield, and then ultimatey other towns, under a self-insured platform, we are reducing costs,” the Mayor said.
One of the main concerns of West Orange residents was how their taxes were being spent. According to the Mayor, 40% is spent on salaries, 13% on benefits, 8% on pensions and social security, 8% on debt services, and around 5% on garbage and recycling.
To remain fiscally responsible with tax dollars, the Mayor discussed efforts like customer service training, improving the athletic fields (to increase usage and bring in revenue), and installing a new phone system. Mayor Parisi said that West Orange will continue to redefine essential services and evaluate the most cost efficient way to deliver services for 2014. He also said there will be no tax increase in the proposed 2014 budget..
Parisi was able to keep the municipal tax increase at 0% 4 out of the last 5 years. When asked how, the Mayor explained that “in 2010 it was due to major cutbacks, and in 2011 it was due to negotiated contracts with unions that accepted no pay increase.” In 2012, another 0% increase in municipal taxes was realized, but in 2013 there was an approximate 1.5% increase. The 0% tax increase for 2014 will be due mostly in part to the township's participation in the Health Insurance Fund.
The mayor segued into a short discussion on school taxes, which comprise the largest percentage of the property tax bill. When one resident raised concern over how West Orange stacks up compared to neighboring towns in regards to taxes, the mayor pointed out that comparisons are difficult to make due to West Orange having a less homogenous community that includes more of an economically disadvantaged and ESL – or English as a second language - population. The district also has a 20% special needs population, though some return revenue is seen when students from other school districts pay to send their special needs students to West Orange.
After the conclusion of the presentation, residents said they felt more informed about their taxes than before. When asked why the event was sponsored by the PTA, PTA President Lee Sutton said, “People had so many questions about taxes, that when I found out the Mayor had a power point presentation, I spoke to him in November about coming to Pleasantdale to present it."
For any questions regarding West Orange taxes or the town in general, Mayor Parisi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (973) 325-4100.