A few residents have stated concerns that downtown redevelopment would lead to large tax increases, especially hurting our senior citizens.
First let me point out that since the State Legislature passed the 2% cap on municipal spending in 2010, Scotch Plains' municipal taxes have only risen at a rate of 1.1%. The Township has also recently attained a AAA bond rating, further pointing to a fiscally responsible government. As Mayor, I am working with the Township Council in a bipartisan way to continue our fiscally responsible budgets.
I am fully aware that property taxes are the #1 concern for our residents, which is why I campaigned on downtown redevelopment. My goal for downtown redevelopment (in addition to helping us meet our affordable housing requirements that are being imposed on us by the State Supreme Court) is to help us stabilize our entire tax bill, including school and county taxes, which have been increasing since 2010 on an average of 4.7% and 2.2%, respectively.
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I have a two-pronged strategy to accomplish the goal of tax stabilization. First, grow the tax base through downtown redevelopment by bringing in more ratables and commercial properties to draw revenue from. Currently, residential properties in town pay 90% of the total tax bill. We have to reduce the tax burden on our residents. Other towns like Cranford and Watchung have done it, with residential taxpayers bearing only 83% and 77%, respectively of the total tax bill. We should take a similar approach. Second, I plan to continue to engage our State and County officials to ask for our fair share of funding from the taxes we send them.
As to the assertion that I have secret plans with developers for downtown redevelopment, nothing can be further from the truth. The downtown redevelopment process has been completely transparent with public meetings and live streaming of meetings.
What I have stated at these meetings is that several developers/builders have approached me and other town officials indicating that they are interested in participating in downtown redevelopment. But, I have continued to express my frustration that we are not at the point in the process where we can engage the developers/builders in specific proposals, which will be done as part of the public process. As areas in need of redevelopment are identified, the Township Council will direct that redevelopment plans be created leading to the selection of developers. I have set a goal to have realistic redevelopment plans for the Phase I of the downtown redevelopment by early 2018 with developers selected by mid-year 2018.
As to the relocation of certain public buildings, that will play out as part of the public process. No decision has been made. What is clear is that our public buildings are located on prime real estate, the sale of which will provide essential funding for downtown redevelopment.
Finally, I have made it clear that I will not vote for a redevelopment proposal that is not a net benefit to the taxpayers of Scotch Plains. Stay tuned.
The Township of Scotch Planis
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