The Summit Taxpayers Association (STA) is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to advocate for fiscally responsible government. Organized in 1943 exclusively to represent Summit Taxpayers, the STA mission is to reduce property tax increases in Summit to zero over three years, by 2014, through dialogue, non-partisan analysis regarding our City, School and County budgets.
I paraphrase Jack Swigert, Lunar module commander on Apollo 13, to say “Summit, we’ve had a problem here”. Commander Swigert was referring to an explosion in the number 2 oxygen tank caused by a frozen “O” ring. I refer to the explosion in Union County spending and taxes. Each of these explosions threatened the success of the mission. Apollo 13 survived and returned safely to earth. Can Summit return to earth with a “zero tax increase”? Success requires we follow an Apollo 13 type recovery plan.
First, recognize that Union County is Summit’s Apollo 13 equivalent of the O ring, sucking all the oxygen from our City Tax levy of $123.3 million. Summit pays Union County nearly $32MM in 2012, up 11% and $3MM over last year. Union County government should be only an adjunct to local government yet County taxes exceed the cost of our entire local government. It is estimated less than 15% of our taxes are returned in goods or services. County government operates with no clear mission but votes unanimously for entitlements our own city workers don’t have, operates multi- million dollar golf courses and ice skating rinks and manages (?) a hospital. Not unlike the O ring, they freeze any voice of dissent while exploding County debt.
Second, Apollo 13 survived because someone on the ground simulated the troubled spacecrafts many activities, circumventing missteps which could leak fuel and jeopardize the mission. Like spacecraft fuel, taxes are a zero sum game. Taxes consumed by Union County are not available to fund our town or schools (kindergarten?) needs. For this reason we can’t afford to produce a mid-year City budget only to find major costs like pensions, health care or county spending leave us no option but to … raise taxes! Summit’s municipal budget snapshot must be produced before each year end and be accompanied by a critical fact sheet anticipating revenue and expense challenges and adjusting accordingly.
Third, our School Board should be commended for producing a nearly flat year over year budget. However, school debt is large ($44 million) and growing and discussions to fund an expensive ($10+MM) full day kindergarten are underway. It’s worth noting there is no state mandate to provide public school kindergarten. Let’s demand an end to Union County wasting over $20MM each year from Summit’s tax levy. We could then afford a new $10MM kindergarten program and REDUCE OUR TAXES by an additional $10MM. Additionally, many good preschool programs already operate throughout Summit and are paid for with private vs. public funds.
Summit is a beautiful and affluent town. Affluence allows you to afford anything you want …. But not necessarily everything you want. To keep Summit both beautiful and affordable, taxpayers and city leaders will need to make the difficult decisions needed to achieve this mission. Let’s return our property taxes safely back to ground zero.
Happy Holidays from the Summit Taxpayers Association!