To the Editor:
I wish to address a campaign flyer endorsing Ashley Felice and Mark Hamilton in the Republican Primary on Tues 7/7/20 concerning Chatham Township Committee. I received the document by mail on approx. 5/27/20.
Plenty of comments well-founded and defensible, whether re Mayor Mike Kelly (e.g., mute button, endorsing D candidates, stifling AH process etc etc) or re Felice/Hamilton (e.g. stellar qualifications, commitment to volunteerism, CT residents first, strat planning etc etc). However, I wish to provide some additional context to the following statement:
- "[The current CTC] Enacted the largest municipal tax increase on Chatham Township residents in over a decade (12.6%) while simultaneously depleting our $3.5MM surplus."
The statement above is factually correct to my understanding. It also appears on surface to be a good campaign sound bite. However, please also consider the following:
- Tax increase of this magnitude was necessary at least in part because developer fees were not sufficiently collected and segregated for Affordable Housing purpose over the past several CTC administrations (or not collected at all).
- The financial obligation concerning AH is real (whatever the ultimate actual $ amount, which is of course at least partially dependent on site chosen and other factors). Therefore, this is a debate about the sourcing of funds (and related timing) rather than the use of funds. That is to say, we could/should have had higher taxes earlier (whether via developer fees or ad valorem or whatever) rather than too low for several yrs and then sudden big jump in CY 2020 (i.e. the referenced 12.6%). We get to the same place either way (i.e. need to meet the $xyz funding requirement for AH).
- The absolute $ obligation re the AH component of budget is in no way the sole responsibility of the current CTC administration. That is a constitutional/legislative etc mandate. Furthermore, collections to partially pre-fund said obligation are only partially the responsibility of current CTC (i.e. partially in sense that current CTC could arguably have implemented developer fee mechanics since taking the reins to at least somewhat mitigate prior inaction).
- If there were evidence anecdotally or otherwise that material portion of the referenced 12.6% increase was due to fiscal irresponsibility or largesse etc in CT budgets then the criticism is completely fair game. However, no claims or evidence have surfaced concerning that to my knowledge. Given that the increase, therefore, appears to be wholly or substantially resulting from something completely outside the control of current CTC admin (i.e. AH mandate, w little or no funding via recent prior CT budgets), this would appear to be an unfair criticism.
- If anything, one could have perhaps argued that TAXES WERE NOT RAISED ENOUGH in CY 2020 (rather than too much). Rationale being that things may get more sticky from fiscal perspective over next several yrs so shouldn't continue to repeat mistakes of past few yrs wherein annual tax assessments were actually insufficient per comment above (including separate item of continually underfunding the open space tax for past number of yrs (e.g. $0.01/1000 etc rather than voter prior approved $0.02/1000)).
- Can't have cake and eat it too re simultaneously criticizing the tax increase and the concurrent drawing down of surplus. Other things being equal, if the surplus were to remain at $3.5MM (rather than drawn down from $3.5MM to $500K (i.e. $3MM drawdown)) then taxes would have otherwise had to increase $3MM to cover the difference (assuming no source of funds other than ad valorem).
- On one hand, CTC is criticized for raising taxes too much (i.e. 12.6%) but also criticized for drawing down surplus (which drawdown by definition restrains the increase in tax levy in current year). The criticism re tapping surplus is misguided absent the argument that expenditures were fiscally irresponsible or lax per above or that taxes should have been raised even more than 12.6% (i.e. my lonely argument that the increase was not enough, primarily because I think that the benefit of robust / increased surplus outweighs the consideration of having to raise taxes to do so).
- Related, and per separate bullet point in flyer re "Bring back Fiscal Responsibility...that this Committee have abandoned". The refusal to adequately tax residents in prior years by prior CTCs per above is largely what got us into this 12.6% mess in the first place. Again, and also per above, if there are expenditures which are frivolous or otherwise (which there may well be) then this comment is definitely fair game from that perspective and I stand corrected.
- [A side note in fairness to CTC re annual use of surplus. Similar uses of surplus have occurred annually over time (e.g. $3-4MM). However, arguably different in this circumstance as not as much optimism concerning anticipated level of Excess Surplus at end of CY 2020 relative to prior yrs. Given this, arguably should not have drawn down full $3MM this yr. Rather, perhaps should have considered raising taxes further to cover the difference (or simultaneously lower op expenditures or cap expenditures if / as practicable to partially cover)].
- [A separate side note in support of current and prior CTCs concerning AH commitments. They have determined to pursue a strategy of predominantly/exclusively muni-sponsored 100% affordable rather than strategy of inclusionary development (e.g. private developer-sponsored 80/20 mkt/affordable). While a materially higher $ cost to residents than the inclusionary dev strategy, at least in up-front costs, the 100% strategy is clearly cost-effective and prudent in my view given that it avoids the substantially increased physical and population density and infrastructure demands accompanying inclusionary development AH scenarios.]
Finally, DON’T FORGET TO VOTE (FOR WHOMEVER, AND WHETHER IN PRIMARY FOR R OR IN PRIMARY for D)!!!
3 Crestwood Drive
Chatham Township, NJ 07928-1720