Friday, October 25, 2013

Robbing Peter to pay Paul - Unintended Consequences of Tax Reform

New Jersey real estate taxes that fund municipalities and county governments are among the highest in the nation.  To try and stop the ever rising tide of tax bills, NJ voters passed a cap that keeps real estate taxes raising above a certain percentage of the previous year's rate. The cap can be manipulated somewhat by using bonds for capital purchases such as building improvements, etc.

Newfield was already in a tight budget situation before the recession because the biggest tax contributor - a corporation called ShieldAlloy - closed.  Along came the recession and the budget got even tighter as more local businesses closed and fewer people were spending money to upgrade their houses.

The Newfield Public Library has been partially supported by funds from the Newfield Borough budget to in the range of $20,000 to $25,000 each year.  Gloucester County funds and fund raising efforts have provided the remainder of the needed operating costs.  The Library is open 6 days a week and holds special events for children of the community as well as computer/internet access for individuals who need it, especially tweens and teenagers doing homework.

Occasionally, donors give a large enough gift that allows the Library to take on a large project to expand its support to the community.  One of these gifts provided sufficient funds to add a meeting space for town organizations such as the Cemetery Board and photography clubs, etc.  So, the Borough made a proposal to the Library Board that would help with the town budget.  In exchange for not providing the customary yearly funds for two years, the Borough would float a bond and pay funds towards the building expansion.  The gift funds would be used for operating costs.  This would help the Borough Budget and rate stay under its expansion cap.  In two years, the town would return to paying its previous obligation towards the Library operating expenses.  As anyone knows who has been managing a household budget, this is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The two years are almost up and no surprise, "The Borough is broke."  The suggestion was made that Gloucester County could take over the Library and make it one its branches.  From a Borough Council viewpoint, they thought that would end their financial obligation and problem solved.  From a library patron perspective who has noticed that as Newfield is the farthermost most municipality from the county seat and very, very small to boot, this was not an ideal situation.  Library hours and functions would be controlled by the County and would lose the close connection that the Library Board, and hence the Library, has to the town.

It turns out this "solution" would not dissolve Borough Council's financial obligation to the Library and might even raise the stakes.  So, this solution will not be taken.  It still leaves the town "broke" and the Library Board wondering if any funds will be forthcoming in 2014.    The funds needed are way beyond what can be raised by normal funding raising activities such as coin drops, bake sales, chocolate festivals, and used book sales.

Another solution is to drastically cut the hours the library is open.  Of course, that is a double edged sword since county supplemental support depends upon the number of hours the library is open.   It would also drastically affect the community's children who use the Library for finding information for homework assignments. 

Personally, I think Borough Council needs to revisit budget priorities.  Does the 1.7 square miles that constitute Newfield require the level of police coverage presently provided?  Circumstances have changed since that level was established.  Other services are suffering budget shortfalls that may be of higher value to the community now.  Neighboring towns don't seem to have such a high level of police service as Newfield does.    I believe the Library is more important - of course, that is my bias.

This is not an attack on the police force.  They are all professional and provide the service they are being paid for.  When I have needed them they have been there - the possible gas leak, the snake incident, and EMS calls.  I appreciate all that and I realize that I would receive slower service when the Sheriff's office has to cover if Newfield cuts back police service.  It's just that I am willing to make that trade to provide the same level of library service we have right now.

If you feel like I do, tell a Newfield Borough Council member.  Their names can be found here.  They don't know what we want unless we tell them.

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