The number one issue for this election is affordability, specifically the rising level of property taxes. Nearly everyone is considering leaving Summit after their kids finish school because of our high cost of living.
Many are fearful of tax cuts, worried they would compromise the quality of our great schools or our jewel of a downtown. However, these proposals would not take a penny from the schools or downtown.
Others confuse the issue with our AAA credit rating, believing that tax cuts will cause us to be less creditworthy. That’s simply not true. Other politicians won’t try, simply rolling their eyes and refusing to engage, to do the hard work to make it happen.
Tax cuts will not only benefit every property owner’s cash flow, but it could cause property values to soar.
As a financial analyst and economist, I have looked at countless balance sheets and income statements. Here are several strategies.
1. Cut The County’s Tax on Our Taxes
Here, we need to pursue action on three fronts. Union County is the classic taxation without representation. Effectively, Summit has no representation on the Union County Freeholders. Each region within the County must be able to elect its own freeholder, similar to the US Senate.
Second, demand a more equitable County funding formula. Summit’s share of the County’s budget keeps rising relative to other communities, despite no increase in our population. Sole reliance on questionable property values is inappropriate.
Third, demand less overall spending. In this economic climate, as an example, the construction of ornate golf club manses in eastern Union County is simply irresponsible. Beware, too, of insidious off balance sheet financing. Most recently, the County’s proposed $59 million guaranty of a Mind and Body project for the City of Roselle puts Summit taxpayers on the hook for this debt, scary when you analyze Roselle’s economy.
2. Demand Our Fair Share of State Aid
Trenton has numerous programs designed to bring resources to local municipalities. Our school district has taken great advantage, in particular accessing reimbursement from the State via the RODS program.
Other programs are designed to assist school districts based on perceived need. This left Summit with a paltry sum relative to other districts, like Hoboken. Now, with Teslas cruising Hoboken streets given new found NYC wealth, there’s no fairness in Hoboken last year receiving over 10 times more per student than Summit. Our Council must fight for Summit’s share.
3. Increase Commercial Ratables
Business property owners help shoulder our tax burden based on their ratables, or value of their properties. Summit was left in a fiscal hole by a dramatic decrease in ratables following Merck’s departure, only partially offset by Celgene’s arrival.
The road map to increased ratables is obvious. Do everything possible to bring in high quality businesses. It won’t be easy but removing this burden on Summit taxpayers must be job one for any Council member.
4. Outsource Non Essential City Operations
Cities and other entities are looking at the savings from contracting with third parties to reduce the costs and headaches of non-essential operations. Summit must look at these solutions, despite the knee jerk response from unions and others resistant to any kind of change.
For example, universities and towns have successfully privatized their parking operations. Study the parking enforcement privatization by Salinas, California last year; Eastern Michigan University and others seek to follow suit.
While caution is in order in something as critical to Summit as parking, to simply say no without further investigation is not what Summit taxpayers can afford.
5. Increase Shared Services
Every adjacent town is conducting the same operations as Summit. The cost savings are obvious if we collaborate and avoid wasteful duplication.
Summit has already successfully partnered for a Joint Dispatch Service and a part time tax assessor. This must be just the beginning.
6. Eliminate Frivolous Spending
The schools and municipality have done an excellent job in getting value for the taxpayers’ dime. However, we must stay vigilant. As an example, I question the need to cobblestone any of our City’s streets.
What can you do as a voter? Insist that your candidate agrees that tax reduction is an absolute priority. Make sure they have the financial experience and training to understand the issues. If you don’t demand tax reduction, it simply won’t happen.
David Dietze is the Republican candidate for Summit Common Council, At-Large.
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