May 15, 2012
Re: S-1914, User Fees
Yesterday, Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Vincent Barrella, Wharton Administrator/CFO Jon Rheinhardt, Burton T. Conway and Lori Buckelew testified before the Senate State Government Committee in opposition to S-1914, which requires certain user fees for the provision of traditional municipal services to be included within the 2% municipal and county property tax levy cap. (For more information on S-1914 please see our May 8 Dear Mayor Letter)
During his testimony, Mayor Barrella stated that he “…would like to express my agreement with the following statement which remains as true today as it was when it was penned in 2009: ’To attack our history of local decision making is wrong for New Jersey.’ These words were written by my fellow Republican, Governor Chris Christie.” Mayor Barrella also testified that “Unfortunately, S-1914 represents an attack on local decision making. In these difficult times it is essential that municipalities are allowed to retain a reasonable degree of flexibility in dealing with how services are provided and paid for. S-1914 appears to be a response to the efforts of those in some municipalities to manage this problem, and, respectfully, I believe it to represent overkill. There is a much more effective check on local officials who seek to game the system than S-1914, that check is the local electorate. Not a day goes by where upon a visit to the local supermarket or convenience store I do not encounter my constituents, and you can rest assured that those I encounter have no problem letting me know what they think. Respectfully, government that is closest to the people governs best.” A copy of Mayor Barrella’s testimony is available at http://www.njslom.org/testimony/Barrella-testimony-051412.pdf.
Mr. Rheinhardt and Mr. Conway both noted that if municipalities are to operate as a business they need to have available business tools, such as “user fees” and pricing systems, to do so. User fees are at times the best method to pay for any public service. At times it is appropriate to fund some services by user fees, especially those services for which a recipient and a cost can be clearly and accurately identified and calculated.
We also raised our concerns with the definition of “traditional municipal services” as well as the implementation date of S-1914. We are working with Senate President Sweeney on suggested language to address our concerns.
I think we all agree that New Jersey's high local property taxes need to be addressed. However, local government should be encouraged, and not discouraged, to implement "user fees" and pricing systems to better manage "traditional” services. As local units struggle to meet 2% levy cap, without the full effects of the management reforms and the continued diversion of energy receipt taxes, officials are forced to re-examine their budget and priorities. In order to deliver the services that their residents expect and want local officials have been making structural changes to their budget, including how programs are funded. Municipalities must continue to have the flexibility to meet these demands not have their hands tied further by legislation.
S-1914 is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Thursday, May 17.
We urge you to contact the Members of that Committee and your own State Senator to ask that they oppose S-1914, as currently drafted.
If you have any questions or need additional information please do not hesitate to contact Lori Buckelew at 609-695-3481 x112 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Very truly yours,
William G. Dressel, Jr.