South Orange Village Prez Collum: ‘Delighted’ Gov. Murphy Is Focusing on Property Taxes

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Village Green asked the elected leaders of South Orange, Maplewood and the South Orange-Maplewood School District to comment on Gov. Phil Murphy’s budget address on March 8. The following response is from South Orange Village President Sheena Collum:

Governor Murphy’s Budget Address 2022

I was absolutely beyond delighted to hear Gov. Murphy focus on property taxes. South Orange is the 13th highest in property taxes in the state with a whopping $19k average per household. That’s double the state average which is the highest the country. While we often hear from various administrations and state lawmakers that they don’t set local property taxes, their actions directly impact our property tax rates in a very significant way.

As a great example, in South Orange and Maplewood, 57% of property taxes go directly to fund our schools. For over a decade, our district has not received its “fair share” of the funding formula and as a result, local property taxes filled the void in a very big way. Governor Murphy has pledged to fully funding the formula and has added $650M in the K-12 appropriation. The bigger the number is here, the bigger the tax relief impact is for South Orange and Maplewood taxpayers. [Editor’s note: Find the SOMSD aid number here; Village Green is follow up.]

The next big item for our taxpayer is the “Affordable New Jersey Communities for Homeowners and Renters” tax relief program. Now what I love about this program is it expands eligibility. Homeowners with incomes up to $250,000 will qualify with the state “average relief” being roughly $700. Keep in mind, our residents pay twice the state average in property taxes so our homeowners will see a lot more than most. Renters with incomes up to $100,000 will also be eligible for direct relief to offset rent increases.

Governor Murphy has also announced $300M in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to create the Affordable Housing Production Fund. While South Orange has met its affordable housing obligations through 2025 with all the redevelopment projects happening around town, I’m excited to identify another project and get to work with a submission! His budget also increases the Down Payment Assistance Program which will nicely complement the work of our Community Coalition on Race and their Wealth Gap Equalizer Loan Program that South Orange also provided a monetary match. The diversity of our community is directly linked to housing supply and affordability. I credit a lot of the work and programs we see coming from the state directly linked to Lieutenant Governor Oliver and for her efforts, I’m incredibly grateful.

South Orange is also a major commuter hub being the busiest stop on the Morris and Essex Line. Prior to the pandemic, local officials were spending considerable efforts lobbying for better service and advocating for the Gateway Program that would create greater capacity and reliability for riders. While Governor Murphy focused on “no new fare hikes”, the much greater success has been his unrelenting commitment to this project after the former administration killed it. For this, I’m incredibly excited as well.

What I’d Like to Hear More Of…

What I didn’t hear from the Governor’s Budget Address is a focus on shared services and consolidations as a means to greater tax relief and efficient delivery of services.

“Home Rule” has a created a monster of 565 municipalities and over 600 school districts all doing their own thing.  There are programs for “studies” to evaluate opportunities, but implementation is where the rubber hits the road and that requires either local political will or a strong state government that starts to compel municipalities to act boldly. I absolutely appreciate the incredible work of Governor Murphy’s Shared Service Czars Nic Platt and Jordan Glatt who have worked tirelessly in aiding us with our fire department merger, but I see a big opportunity for real partnerships, mass consolidations, and regional approaches to service delivery. Anything less continues the systematic path of making New Jersey less affordable to all people who want to stay here.

Lastly, there is a Senate Bill sponsored by Senate President Scutari and Senator Singleton which would be a massive game changer for local municipalities. The bill will begin the restoration of approximately $331 million in reductions to Consolidated Municipal Property Tax Relief Aid (CMPTRA) and Energy Tax Receipts Property Tax Relief Aid due to State budget constraints. “Wait, what Sheena?” I know, it’s complicated but I will be working very hard on this. State lawmakers began the process of keeping Energy Tax Receipts to fund state programs a long time ago. For us, that amount is over $20M since 2001 and would restore roughly $1.8M annually into our municipal budget. “Is that a big deal, Sheena?” Yes, it’s huge. Put it this way, in the past five years if we applied that revenue directly to the tax levy increase, the number would been a 0% increase. This year’s levy increase in South Orange will likely be a little north of $1M which is about 4%. Imagine if we received that $1.8M. In my opinion, the passage of this bill with the Governor’s signature will be the single biggest impact on our municipal budgets that I can remember since taking office. I truly hope he will support this.

South Orange Village 2021

This past year was huge for South Orange with respect to State programs and competitive grants we applied for and received. Each dollar received is money we don’t have to levy on our taxpayers.

Highlights included:

  • $6.5M from the Library Construction Bond Act which was authorized by the legislature and signed by the Governor.
  • $5.5M in Low Income Housing Tax Credits from the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency for our 100% affordable housing project on Third Street.
  • $625,000 from the Neighborhood Preservation Program under the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs to revitalize the Irvington Avenue corridor.

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