New Jersey taxpayers pay almost $30 billion a year in property taxes to cover the costs of our inefficient, bloated and in some ways backward system for delivering services. That amount is 10 percent of what the other 49 states pay in property taxes. New Jersey has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.
The current push by Trenton to increase income taxes, sales taxes and corporate taxes for more school funding, pension funding and more municipal aid will never be the answer. It will actually add more overhead, increase our inefficient structure and have us paying $32 billion in no time.
Where is the concern of our elected officials and the voter outrage that the majority of residents have to work two to three months just to pay their property taxes? Every local elected official and the governor should be looking at ways to reduce our overhead, make our services more efficient and reward innovation. The problem we must address is the current cost of providing local services.
If we look at two towns merging or three school districts combining, it is difficult to see how this could reduce property taxes significantly. But if we look at the entire state and reduce hundreds of redundant town and school administrations, we see a substantial and permanent cost reduction and more appropriately sized structures.
For example, we have approximately 680 superintendents running our schools. A superintendent earning $175,000 per year paid by local school budgets becomes a pension liability that swells to $2 million to $3 million, which is paid by all New Jersey taxpayers. Imagine the fiscal sustainability of 300 fewer superintendents and administrations created by unifying all of our school districts to K-12 districts like most other states.
Here are just a few examples of elected officials that have looked into ways to give taxpayers the best value for their hard-earned tax dollars. In 2015, the Pennsauken governing body asked for a proposal from Camden County about contracting their police services from the county. The report concluded that the town could save between $4.8 million and $5.8 million per year depending on the staffing levels selected while providing much better service. No action has been taken on this proposal.
A state report for the Hamilton fire commissioners confirmed that consolidating their current nine separate fire districts into a single unified district would save their taxpayers $2.7 million per year and would provide superior service. No referendum has been scheduled on this proposal.
Last year, the Hopatcong school board paid for an operational efficiency audit. This audit found multiple ways the administration could operate more efficiently to save $4.48 million over five years. Since Hopatcong receives more than $11 million in state aid each year, we all pay for their inefficiencies. This report has received a lukewarm response and no reforms have been implemented to date.
What business or individual would pass on an opportunity to save millions?
It is clear we must reduce the bloated, vastly overstaffed administrative structures of 565 towns and 687 school districts. All of our state income taxes and 8 percent of our sales taxes are spent on property tax relief in the form of school and municipal aid. We are all paying to support this antiquated structure.
Only a statewide initiative, bold elected leaders and an outcry from taxpayers will change the course of our highest-in-the-nation property taxes. If we fail to realize the depth of change required to attain our future sustainability then both our state and taxpayers will continue to suffer.
The road to significantly reduce our property taxes is the same road that leads to an enhanced education, stronger towns and a more comprehensive police service.
We can no longer afford to wait.
Gina Genovese is executive director of Courage To Connect NJ and a former mayor of Long Hill Township.