TRENTON – The head of New Jersey’s mayors group thanked lawmakers today for reforms that helped towns keep tax increases to 2.4 and 1.4 percent the last two years, but renewed calls for a return of energy tax receipts, and issued a warning that mounting costs such as insurance premiums and utility bills are squeezing municipalities.
Janice Mironov, mayor of East Windsor and president of the N.J. League of Municipalities, told the Assembly Budget Committee this morning that despite pruning budgets, cutting workforces, and sharing services, towns are facing three options: Cut essential services, seek voter approval to exceed the 2 percent tax cap, or win back the energy tax receipts and put them toward tax relief.
Mironov asked lawmakers in fiscal year 2014 to restore $331 million diverted to meet state needs in fiscal years 2009-2011, as well as support A2753, which would require payment of energy tax receipts directly to towns.
“New Jersey taxpayers have already waited too long for the return of these resources,’’ Mironov told the committee.
She applauded the governor for proposing a 35 percent increase in funding for volunteer emergency medical services training, but cautioned the League opposes a proposed diversion of $21 million from the recycling fund to the general fund.
The funds come from a $3 per ton tax on waste collectors and facilities, at least 60 percent of which is to be returned to municipalities as grants, Mironov said.
While thanking the administration for the proposed $40 million Sandy recovery fund, Mironov also pointed out that the governor indicated support for limiting so-called user fees such as highway tolls and state park fees.
She reiterated that the tax cap, unfunded mandates, and other such restrictions are affecting towns’ abilities to meet residents’ needs.
Toward that end, she asked lawmakers to make civil service reform a priority. Republican lawmakers attempted such reform in 2011, but Democrats rebuffed such proposals.
“The time has come to restore to local budgets the millions in property tax relief that have been annually diverted to meet state needs,” she said.
Committee Chairman Vincent Prieto, D-32, Secaucus, said he appreciated that towns are doing more with less and that towns’ hands have been tied to an extent.
Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-13, Red Bank, said he sympathizes on the energy receipts issue and with the problem of successful tax appeals further burdening local budgets, and referenced a pilot program that could help towns that have to deal with the dilemma of setting budgets before the effect of tax appeals can be accounted for.
And Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-26, Parsippany, said the problem with energy tax receipts is that “Every year what is said is that we want local property tax relief, but what I hear is we want more money to spend at the local level.” He said the money has to get back in to – not merely the town officials’ hands – but in to the taxpayers’ hands for property tax relief.
Mironov said in disagreeing with that characterization that the money always was intended to go to municipalities for providing services as well as tax relief.