Mayors Respond to 11th Annual League Survey
For the 11th consecutive year, over two hundred mayors offered their views on several major policy areas in response to the League’s Annual Legislative Priority Survey. Their responses to specific issues provide direction and will assist the League Executive Board and staff during what could be a critical year for municipalities and property taxes.
Property taxes, state mandates, and the costs that affect taxes are foremost on Mayors’ minds as they begin to prepare for the New Year. 92% of the mayor’s responding said they would support reforms that would fund school districts’ budgets with revenue from source other than property taxes. 83% stated they support a citizens’ convention to address both property taxes and government spending.
Local officials have long recognized that the State can provide property tax relief through immediate end of unfunded mandates. When asked what mandates would provide the most relief for taxpayers the Mayors ranked them as follows:
1. Binding Arbitration
2. Pension employer contribution
3. Stormwater Regulations
4. 4% Tax Cap Levy
5. State Permitting process
6. DEP Permits, Fees and Oversight Cost
7. Consolidation of the Planning Board/Zoning Board regardless of population
Binding arbitration, the process for settling collective bargaining disputes between a town and a police/fire union, permits a union to bring in a third-party arbitrator whenever economic issues remain unresolved. 86% of the Mayors said that binding arbitration is a major impediment to controlling salary expenses. 63% of the Mayors would like to be able to use regional bargaining during the contract negotiations process with unions.
During contract negotiations, towns have been trying to control health benefit costs. 37% of mayors responding indicated that they require municipal employees to contribute to their health benefit premium while 40% have reduced the level of benefits or taken other measures to reduce premium cost.
Recently the State Commission of Investigation released a report on waste and abuse in local government employee compensation and benefits. The SCI report made scattered mention of the difference between the strict benefit limits of certain local public employees versus the police and fire employees. Our survey highlights this difference. 75% of the mayors responded that they currently cap accumulated sick leave benefits for employees covered by the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) versus 47% who cap accumulated sick leave benefits for employees covered by the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). The caps ranged from $3,000 to $20,000, while some towns had a cap that was a combination of days and monetary amount. A handful of towns no longer provide the benefit. This is an example of one of the mandates that have made PFRS the most expensive local pension system. Any efforts at change must include reform of the compensation and benefits of all local government employees, including police and firefighters.
Another mandate that ties Mayors’ hands is the inability to leave Civil Service. The voters of a municipality can choose to place their public employees into the civil service system. Once they make that decision, the State statute mandates that future generations of municipal citizens are bound by it. 88% of the responding mayors would support an amendment to the current law to allow municipalities to withdraw from civil service. We believe that requirements imposed on local management by civil service rules, and the generous rights that employees enjoy in the civil service system, increase local personnel costs and limited the municipalities’ ability to create shared services.
The survey provided an opportunity for mayors to list other state mandates that impact the municipal budget. The number one response was COAH rules and regulations. When asked if their municipality had filed for COAH Substantive Certification 63% responded in the affirmative.
The survey results reinforce the call for mandate relief. Action on mandates relief can bring immediate and sustainable property tax relief to our State’s citizens and hasten our recovery from the current financial crisis.
Contact: William G. Dressel, Jr.
(609) 695-3481 x122
(609) 915-9072 (cell)
Surveys were mailed to all mayors and distributed in the Mayors’ Information Center at the Annual Convention in Atlantic City during November 17-20, 2009.