New Jersey Towns Seek Voter Permission to Break Christie Property Tax Cap

At least 12 New Jersey communities want to exceed Governor Chris Christie’s 2 percent cap on property-tax increases, less than three months after it took effect.

The communities placed advertisements in newspapers alerting voters to referendums in April, Bill Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities said yesterday in an e-mail. Towns readying for the referendums included Brick and Edgewater Park, he said. In addition, the Record reported that Riverdale, North Arlington and Chesilhurst also signaled they intend to hold referendums.

New Jersey had the nation’s highest state and local tax burden in fiscal 2009 for the third straight year, the Washington-based Tax Foundation said last month. Residents paid 12.2 percent of their incomes in state and local levies. New York was next with 12.1 percent.

“It’s going to be a tough sell, but once people see the reality of the services that may be cut, I think they will vote yes,” said Scott Pezarras, business administrator and chief financial officer in Brick, a township of 79,000 people near the Jersey Shore. “Most people are going to understand.

Yesterday was the deadline to advertise the referendums, said Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Community Affairs.

Law’s Exemptions

Christie, 48, a first-term Republican, last year signed a measure capping growth in the taxes as of Jan. 1 unless local governments ask voters for permission for a bigger increase. The law also exempted higher levies to cover bond payments, increased health-insurance or pension costs and natural disasters.

Property taxes have proven a perennial issue in New Jersey, where bills averaged $7,281 in 2009, according to state data.

Pezarras said his town advertised a referendum seeking an unspecified increase above the cap. He said the move was brought about after Christie cut $5.6 million in state aid and officials drew down their surplus by $3 million, to $5.4 million. If the town doesn’t exceed the cap, it may have to end curbside pick-up of trash or dismiss as much as 23 percent of its police force, he said.

The township is trying to convert a closed landfill to a solar-energy field to boost revenue, he said.

‘Hard Cap’

“They’re exercising their prerogative to ask voters to require any higher levy,” said Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie, who took office in January 2010. “That was the intent of putting in place a hard cap backed by voters approving any breach.”

The governor has urged lawmakers to pass his 33-point “toolkit” of measures designed to help local governments meet the new standards. While lawmakers have approved a measure capping police and fire arbitration awards, they have yet to approve most of the package.

Towns scheduled to hold referendums, according to the League of Municipalities:

Brick
Edgewater Park
Florence
Hardwick
Hope Township
Lambertville
Plumsted
Mansfield
Maurice River
Mount Holly
Mount Laurel
Northvale

To contact the reporter on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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