The November 2016 elections are now behind us, and voters have decided whom they want to govern. Locally we had a spirited race for the open City Council seat in Ward II, where Steve Bowman (R) was elected. Public service in Summit is a volunteer job. Those who put their time and talents into serving our city should be applauded.  

As sure as the leaves falling off our trees foreshadows the coming of winter, the end of an election signals the hard work of governing must begin. A few facts to consider as we look ahead to the 2017 City Budget process:

  • 2016 City of Summit Budget was $133.5MM
  • 66.6MM (50%) spent on Schools & School Debt
  • 38.5MM (29%) spent on Union County assessment
  • 28.4MM (21%) spent on running the City of Summit

To see how those numbers have changed over the years, here are some past budget numbers compiled by the Summit Taxpayers Association:

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  • 2006 City of Summit Budget was $95,928,841
  • $50MM (53%) spent on Schools and School Debt
  • $23.5MM (24%) spent on Union County Assessment
  • $22.5MM (23%) spent on running the City of Summit 

In the eleven years 2006-2016, the three main components of the City of Summit Budget increased:

  • School Budget increased by 33%
  • City of Summit Municipal increased by 26%
  • Union County Assessment increased by 64%

Our Board of Education (BOE) is a volunteer board, appointed by our Mayor, and works very hard to develop our school budget. The BOE faces pressure from several different interest groups in developing the spending priorities. Stakeholders in the budget include, but are not limited to, the teachers, administrators, athletic programs, clubs, transportation, taxpayers, etc. The public is welcome to attend their meetings, and the schedule is listed on their website.

Our City Council is elected and is also comprised of volunteers. They also work very hard in developing our municipal budget. They also face pressure from various groups looking for their piece of the pie.

Union County Freeholders are elected at large and are paid, not volunteer positions.  In fact, we just elected three of them to another term. The Freeholders are elected to represent all of Union County.  However, since they are all from the eastern part of the county, Summit has very little to no input into how our collected tax dollars are spent. Don't forget, Summit taxpayers were assessed $38.5MM by Union County in 2016, and have been assessed over $295MM over the last eleven years!

How long will it be before the Union County Assessment crowds out critical expenditures in our schools and city?  Most citizens would say its already happening. After all, they've increased our bill by 64% over the last 11 years and the share of our city budget that goes to schools and running the city have decreased by several percentage points each.  All this occurred during a time when incomes are flat all across NJ and the U.S.

Union County Freeholder meetings are open to the public, and the schedule is listed on their website. Last year, I attended several meetings and often asked questions during the public comment period. I even asked Governor Christie at his last town hall to attend a meeting with me.  

Will the citizens of Summit unite as one and ask for more accountability from our elected Freeholders?  If we can get enough residents involved, perhaps we can effect change. Until we speak as one, our Union County assessment will continue to crowd out other local priorities in our budget.

The Summit Taxpayers Association would like to organize a group to attend a meeting in 2017.  WILL YOU JOIN US??  If you would like to be a part of a group effort to be heard, there are several ways to contact us: 

WILL YOU JOIN US??  Let us know if you would like to attend, we'll take care of the rest. Together we can accomplish great things in 2017!

Mike Wattick
President, Summit Taxpayers Association