Should small towns be combined with larger, neighboring towns to reduce property tax rates?
State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11) thinks so. He is proposing a bill that would require the consolidation of municipalities with populations of less than 1,000 residents into more highly populated neighboring areas.
None of the Two River towns fit that description, but 33 others in New Jersey do, including Tavistock, with five residents, and nearby Pine Valley, with 12.
“Right now we have 565 towns. We have 600-plus schools. We have thousands of agencies doing their own thing. It’s extremely expensive,” said Gopal in a Dec. 6 interview with The Two River Times.
“Consolidation has always been important to me. It’s a touchy subject, but it’s a conversation that needs to happen, and I want to start the conversation with bills.”
Gopal said the bill does not call for municipal and school district workers to lose their jobs, but rather to consolidate through attrition, by allowing normal means like retirement and resignation to take their course.
“I don’t want there to be jobs lost,” Gopal said. “There’s a lot of people who have been hired and it’s not fair to them when circumstances change. We want to do this in the most human way possible.
Additionally, Gopal said concerns that consolidated municipalities could lose their identity is false.
“What we’re talking about is cutting costs at the top. You’ll be able to keep your sense of community. Your schools are not going anywhere. Your teachers and police officers are not going anywhere. Your principal is going to stay the same. But after some time, you may have a new superintendent.”
Gopal said he was inspired to move this bill forward after a conversation with the governing body of Loch Arbour, a village whose population of 194 is the smallest in Monmouth County.
Loch Arbour is situated on Deal Lake with Asbury Park to its south and other miniature municipalities like Allenhurst (496 residents), Deal (750 residents) and Interlaken (820 residents) to the north. Gopal said Loch Arbour has been in search of a larger town to annex it, but to this point there have been no takers.
In the Two River area the smallest towns are Sea Bright (1,412 residents), Monmouth Beach (3,279 residents) and Atlantic Highlands (4,400 residents).
Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long told The Two River Times she could not comment on the specifics of the bill, but understands its intention to enhance shared service agreements between neighboring municipalities, as well as county and state governments.
Long said Sea Bright and neighboring municipalities are doing their part already to pursue shared service agreements.
“Every day, officials from Sea Bright and other towns are reaching across their municipal boundaries to see where it makes sense to share or consolidate services,” Long said in a Dec. 17 interview.
“Sea Bright has been engaged in shared services conversation with municipalities to the north and the south and we have multiple shared service agreements in place already. And we’re actively looking to pursue more, because I think we all agree we have to do something to control the rising property taxes,” Long added.
New Jersey has the highest property tax rates in the United States, with annual taxes on homes assessed at the state median value of $316,400. It’s a figure that equates to an average property tax burden of $7,601 per year and an effective real estate tax rate of 2.4 percent, according to Gopal.
According to figures compiled by real-estate tracker ATTOM Data Solutions, the national average for yearly property tax payments is $3,399.
Monmouth County’s 2017 average of $8,924 is more than double that total, and is only the ninth highest average total in New Jersey, with Essex County ($11,878), Bergen County ($11,585) and Union County ($10,863) at the top of the list.“New Jersey’s property tax rates are out of control,” Gopal said. “We need to make New Jersey more affordable. Consolidation is not the sole solution to our property tax and municipal spending problems, but it’s a step in the right direction. We need to move forward with the conversation about common sense things like consolidation. But we need to do it humanely.”
This article was first published in the Jan. 3-9 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.
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