EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ -  The cards are in and the program is ready to roll.  Some businesses are ready to participate.  The plan is is place, and there's even a logo.  Now it's time to take Shop East Brunswick, a tax-credit/rebate program that can reward residents for doing business locally and build a new customer base, out for a ride.

During a breakfast meeting at the Estate at Farrington Lake yesterday, Mayor Brad Cohen was joined by Councilmen Michael Spadafino and Sterley Stanley in welcoming local business owners to participate in the new program, a cornerstone of the township's redevelopment Plan.  Cohen reflected on the process of this fall's election concerns both to alleviate residential property taxes and to prevent the business community from being driven of  East Brunswick by high taxes.

The mayor and the council have engaged in a venture with www.propertytaxcard.com, managed by Carmine DeFalco, to address both of these concerns.  Shop East Brunswick rewards residents (and people from other towns who shop in EB, too) for doing business in town by applying 7.5% of the value of their purchase as a tax rebate with the total amount applied annually to their property tax bill.  Local renters can receive a check reimbursement instead.  Don't live in town?  You can "Shop EB" and get a reimbursement check, too.

Sign Up for E-News

"Small businesses don't often 'feel the love' from government, " said Cohen, who began the presentation about the specifics of Shop EB.  "We want to assure them that East Brunswick is business-friendly."

"Over the past few years the township's business alliance has fallen apart, but we hope to ignite an alliance or chamber.  We feel that it is our role, and then the businesses will continue by themselves, " said Cohen.

"Jonathan Sternesky is your friend, " asserted Cohen, referring to East Brunswick's new Economic Development Officer.  Cohen described the role of the EDO in supporting business growth and retention:  "We are making sure that businesses are happy."

Since the designation of Route 18 South from the Turnpike to Ferris Street as an "Area in Need of Redevelopment," the mayor and council have begun to work on plans to "reinvigorate" the area using a transit-center approach.  Shop East Brunswick would not only bring new life to exisiting businesses but serve as an incentive to new ones, the Mayor suggested.  "over time, this idea can grow."

Councilman Michael Spadafino, who was the original proponent of Shop EB, described the use of the cards as a "Win-Win" situation for consumers and businesses  "How are you going to lower my taxes?" was a question Spadafino was often asked during the campaign.  He replied, "I can't, but you can by shopping in East Brunswick."  Spadafino likened the program to other credit-card incentives and shopping perks.

The administrator of the program Carmine DeFalco explained that the purpose of the program is to "increase loyalty and traffic to local businesses.  He explained that 10% of each purchase is deducted by Shop EB.  7.5% goes to the tax rebate; 2.5% goes to the card company.  Participants receive an annual rebate or check in July that gets applied to their tax bill.  The idea is "to keep money flowing in town, " said DeFalco.

DeFalco cited the successes of different types of incentives of this type: "Rewards programs work."  He called the property tax rewards a "forced savings" that people appreciate.  The cost to the merchant is $10 per month.  Merchants are also featured on a proposed "Shop East Brunswick" website   Their stores have highly-visible decals inside and outside.  Through the website, merchants can also call attention to special events or provide coupons to shoppers.

20,000 cards are already available, but, like other rewards cards, Shop EB can also be activated by a customer providing a registered phone number.  There is no cost to consumers. Merchants will also receive a a 2-minute promotional video via EBTV with Mayor Cohen to "kick off" their participation

"You need to be out there," said DeFalco.

Shop into East Brunswick has anticipated a start date of June 1,  Merchants who are interested in participating in the program are encouraged to attend the next business networking meeting on Tuesday, May 9 from 8:00 am to 9:30 am at the East Brunswick Public Library.