BEDMINSTER NJ - Bedminster Township Committeman was chosen by his colleagues to continue as mayor of Bedminster at the January 5, 2018 Betty Merck Dinner, held at Trump National Golf Club. As mayor, he focused his comments on the need for more shared services. The text of his speech is as follows:
Now that Congress has limited the amount of local and state taxes that can be deducted from our federal taxes, more New Jersey residents than ever will be interested in seeing that our local dollars be used efficiently as possible. Last year the Star Ledger named Bedminster the best property tax bargain in Somerset County (among the best in the state), and this governing body, along with your Board of Education has long provided the Bedminster taxpayer with the lowest property tax burdens in the area. However if you compare us to Pennsylvania, Delaware and states where many of our former neighbors now reside (Florida, the Carolinas), there is still much to do.
A few years back I was at a meeting with a group of other local mayors discussing how Somerset County competes with other parts of the nation in attracting big business and jobs to the area. We discussed the county’s positive attributes; educated/motivated workforce, good schools, beautiful communities, all of what we love about the area. Then one mayor lamented that it was too bad we cannot do much about property taxes. At first I was outraged; imagine a group of mayors, who author their municipalities’ budgets, giving up on the possibility of lower property taxes. Then was chagrined…I understood too well that if you simply look internally at the costs for services, police, fire, public works, recreation and other services, along with the ever-increasing costs of health care, labor, and energy, one could be pessimistic over the idea that these services could be delivered more inexpensively. The problem is that each mayor only looked at his or her town as an island, where the only resources were within their borders. Instead we need to look regionally, to see what they have to offer to their neighbors and what can be exchanged for the betterment of both communities.
In 2010 Governor Christie and the legislature imposed a 2% cap on property tax levy, along with a 2% cap on interest arbitration awards for public union contracts. They were designed to require local governing bodies to sharpen their pencils and reign in spending increases. Unstated was that these measures were supposed to force local governing bodies to find partners to merge with or share services to reduce the tremendous duplication found in local government. That part never happened, why, in part because the interest arbitration cap worked, governments maximized exemptions to the cap and the rate of inflation has averaged about 1.7% since 2010. However, now that the 2% Arbitration Cap and the unlimited SALT deduction are now history, the spotlight will be on us in local government to become very, very efficient.
No single township committee or Board of Education can do it alone…that is what we have done the past 7 years, and we are “found all the loose change under the mattress”; we have to make real structural change in local governments.
As we begin 2018, I ask my colleagues, not just on the Bedminster Township Committee, and Board of Education, but in neighboring towns, Bernardsville, Far Hills, Peapack-Gladstone, Bernards Township, the Somerset Hills School District to come together and look for ways to provide our constituents services in the most efficient manner possible, look outside the boundaries of our towns to see if cooperation will provide a better service at a reduced cost to the taxpayer. The good news is that we already know how to do this and we have proven we can do it. The shared court of Bedminster, Bernardsville and Peapack-Gladstone has already yielded over $500K in savings in just over 3 years. Our shared arrangement to operate the sewer plant behind Bedminster Town Hall has yielded savings to the Bedminster, an income stream for P-G and better service. Whether it is code enforcement, public safety, recreation or our libraries, there is ample opportunity to find savings through cooperation. Will there be obstacles, yes, we may need some help from our state officials to clear some of them, but if we wait for the folks in Trenton to impose a property tax solution on us, we may be waiting a long time…and we may not like the solution. We need to lead and make government as efficient as possible. We owe this to the taxpayers of Bedminster and all of our surrounding communities.
I wish you all a happy and healthy 2018. Good night.