Smaller Local Government is Unavoidable

Public sector labor reforms are again being promised by a new governor in Trenton. Some could take effect immediately, but others would phase-in for new hires only.

Meanwhile Summit must balance its budget without raising property taxes above New Jersey's 4% "cap." Despite the fact that our $3½ billion Ratables declined for the first time since 1994 (due to Exemptions and Appeals). And Delinquent taxes from tardy property owners increased $200,000 (24%) even though our collection rate remains 99% on-time.

Moreover State Aid that traditionally funded $3.7 million of our budget is drying up. And Pension/ Medical costs administered for us by state benefit plans jumped another 14% and 18% respectively. So at our local level there is no choice but reduce the number of full-time jobs at City Hall.

We have wonderful public employees, but they get paid better than anybody in the country in similar positions. We simply cannot afford such a large payroll any longer. Almost 40% of our workers earn over $100,000 per year since fringe benefits amount to 31% of wages due to long term union contracts.

Some steps have already reduced overhead by sharing functions like Fire and Public Health with neighboring towns. And outsourcing tasks like grass-cutting to private landscapers. Much more remains to be done.

Fortunately a 3yr effort to automate civil workflow is about to pay off by letting residents serve themselves at our municipal eGOV website. Investment in online software is raising productivity across the board as we digitize municipal records.

But citizens can't expect the same level of personal attention as in the past because it's gotten prohibitively expensive.

Currently the average Summit household pays almost $15,000 in property taxes, for which he gets 27 services ranging from sewers to roads, education to recreation, justice to fire protection, code enforcement to parking garages, library to public housing, and safety to public health.

On the other hand things like homeless assistance, burglar alarms, snow shoveling, gardening, and emergency medical services are provided by private companies, local religious organizations, our volunteer rescue squad, doctor clinics, and Overlook Hospital.

No votes have been taken yet, so please attend our Budget Workshop on February 17th in City Hall at 6:30pm and tell us what else should come out of the property tax envelope. Letting homeowners subscribe individually for them on their own. Privatization could be the answer to our tax dilemma.

It's time to look at what we get from local government, instead of what we're paying to local government. And ask ourselves how these social benefits fit with other things in our pocketbook.

We intend to issue a simple, transparent summary of citywide Revenues & Expenses in the next Open Line budget newsletter, so taxpayers can evaluate our fiscal restraint.

 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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