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MANDATES RELIEF EQUALS PROPERTY TAX RELIEF
The people of New Jersey have spoken. Their priorities are
still tax relief and cost cutting at all levels of government. The new
Administration will surely need to tackle the factors that drive public
spending. Local officials, through the League of Municipalities, stand
ready and willing to help.
For decades, through many administrations, we have offered
ideas for reforms to limit local costs and to provide meaningful and
consistent property tax relief. We were extremely pleased to read that
Lieutenant Governor-elect Guadagno has been charged with identifying
unfunded mandates, and, come January, Governor Christie’s first
executive order will freeze enforcement of unfunded mandates and new
regulations for ninety days.
That’s a great beginning. During those ninety days, we will
advocate for more permanent mandates relief in several priority areas.
COAH Reform - There is little doubt that
affordable housing is a real and persistent need in our state. However,
the assessments and calculations by COAH are the subject of current
controversy. New Jersey municipalities have already spent tax
payers’ money, preparing plans based on faulty data and on projections
that conflict with other State planning priorities. With two dozen
current appeals of the COAH 3rd round regulations pending, it seems
likely that local governments will again be forced to expend additional
resources preparing new plans. The League would welcome the
opportunity to work with the Christie Administration to reform the COAH
process, to harmonize housing policy with other State planning
priorities, and to reduce the financial obligation on our taxpayers.
Binding Interest Arbitration - This is a State
mandated process for settling collective bargaining disputes between a
local government and a police or fire employees’ union.
The process allows a union to bring in a third-party
arbitrator whenever economic issues, such as salary percentage
increases, longevity pay, or shift and rank differentials, remain
unresolved after at least three negotiation sessions. After considering
guidelines contained in the law, the arbitrator has the power to
impose the terms of a new contract. Since 2000, salary schedule
increases have averaged approximately 4% per year. (Previous
arbitration awards ranged upwards of 8%.) However, the movement between
the salary steps, which can cost as much as $15,000 per officer, is
not considered by interest arbitrators as a cost to employers. As a
result, a 4% increase to the salary guide can cost an employer upwards
of 10%, depending on the way the award is structured.
Almost all other local government employees have
benefited from this, though to a lesser extent. When the police are
receiving a 4% increase to their guide, which is costing the
municipality 6 to 10%, it is difficult for a governing body to justify
only 1 to 2% for other public employees. At times, municipal collective
bargaining units will wait for the municipality to settle with the
police or fire union prior to negotiating, so as not to “lose out” on
any benefits, including percentage increases, given to the police or
Civil Service - The voters of a municipality
can choose to place their public employees into the civil service
system. However, once they make that decision, the State statute
mandates that future generations of citizens are bound by it. We can
amend our Constitution - our basic framework of civil rights and
self-government - but we cannot rescind a personnel policy decision
made decades ago. Requirements imposed on local management by civil
service rules can often times increase local personnel costs and limit
the municipalities’ ability to create shared services. Our citizens
should have the right to withdraw from Civil Service.
Municipal Stormwater Regulations - The New
Jersey Department of Environmental Protection developed these
regulations in response to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s
Phase II Rules. Among other mandates, the regulations require
municipalities to distribute annual notices to residents on stormwater
management, to label catch basins, to reclaim water from washing
municipal vehicles and street sweeping, to adopt and enforce stormwater
control ordinances, and dictates use of salt storage structures.
These regulations, while noble, have increased public works
department’s budget throughout the state.
Pension contributions - Currently, the
municipality must contribute a percentage determined by the Division of
Pension. Given the ability to negotiate an employee "match" by
contract, we could save the taxpayers some money.
More than ever, in tough economic times, the people need
property tax relief. The State can provide through immediate relief from