I wanted to share an important issue with you – On Monday night (July 24), the South Orange Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on Ordinance 2023-09 which will forever alter the rich culture and history of South Orange Village, by changing the Village Charter, which is equivalent to our municipal constitution.
12 years ago, the Village undertook a Charter review process and one element that was considered and ultimately dropped was a proposal to provide compensation to the Board of Trustees. Ten years ago, this came up again and, after a public outcry, the proposal was dropped again and other charter changes were submitted to Trenton without a provision for compensation. For some reason, the process “died” in Trenton and now yet again, the Board of Trustees is proposing that these volunteer positions be given monetary compensation, paid for by our property taxes. I shared the following arguments 10 years and they hold as true today as they did then:
For over 150 years, South Orange has been governed by a VOLUNTEER Board of Trustees and Village President. Now, the Board of Trustees is planning to revise our Village’s Charter, allowing for these volunteer positions to be given monetary compensation, paid for by your property taxes.
This is wrong for so many reasons:
Serving as a volunteer is a longstanding Village Tradition
Since the Village was settled, serving as a member of the Board of Trustees has been an honor and a privilege for those who want to serve the community. In all that time, this honor has been done by VOLUNTEERS who were not paid for their service. People served the community because they wanted to do the right thing for the Village, not because they were looking to supplement their income. This tradition is an important part of the culture and history of South Orange and should not be changed.
Providing compensation is not necessary
Serving the Village on the Board of Trustees is a part-time volunteer role. The Village already has a large payroll of full-time paid staff that handle the day-to-day operations of the Village. As a former member of the Board of Trustees, who proudly served from 2007-2013, I can say firsthand that serving on the Board of Trustees does not require a financial outlay for any mandatory expenses. In addition, the Board of Trustees already receives complimentary admission to many political fundraisers, a complimentary parking sticker to park in any permit space downtown, two free nights at the Borgata in Atlantic City for the annual League of Municipalities convention and other perks. Plus, a reimbursement policy for travel expenses is already in existence. No cash compensation is required for the Board of Trustees to complete their duties.
Changing the Charter opens a Pandora’s Box
Altering the Village Charter to provide monetary compensation to the Board of Trustees will open a Pandora’s Box that can never be closed. What begins as a modest “stipend” today, will inevitably grow over time. Simply do a search for Congressional salaries over time as an example of how, when given the opportunity, politicians love to pay themselves more and more money over time.
Our Taxes are already beyond excessive
In this time of flat incomes, reduced services, reduced staff, and skyrocketing property taxes, we simply cannot afford a new expense added to the budget. We simply cannot afford it. There are some that make the ridiculous claim that without payment, some people cannot afford to run for office. I think it is far more important that with our oppressive taxes, far too many people can no longer afford to move to or continue to live in our town and this financial stress only reduces our diversity and all of our property values. The taxes in South Orange are outrageous and we need our elected officials to find ways to REDUCE the budget, not INCREASE the budget by adding an additional expense to pay themselves. Ironically, the BOT is also proposing moving municipal elections to November and are stating how much money that will save, yet at the same time are claiming this similar expense is only a “minor” expenditure. With our obscene taxes, every dollar matters.
I commend and thank the BOT for stepping up to volunteer to serve the community. I also thank them for many initiatives they have taken on to try to control taxes, such as merging the Fire Department and fighting for energy tax receipts. However, while I keep hearing references to “90% of communities” pay their politicians, the relevant fact is that taxes in South Orange are still higher than over 95% of all towns in NJ. We simply must do better.
I hope you will join me in expressing your opposition to this radical change to over 150 years of our Village’s long proud history. You can speak before the BOT at the Public Hearing on this Ordinance on Monday night at 7pm via Webex.
South Orange Village Trustee 2007-2013