Regionalization and Home Rule

Not a Panacea

One of the solutions suggested to help control Property Taxes is implementing regionalization of schools and consolidation of services. It is suggested we have each county become a school district. The suggestion also includes consolidation of municipal services such as police and fire, along with combined purchasing. These are good ideas. They just do not address the fundamental problem with the Property Tax: Fairness.

The presumed benefits of consolidation would be the operational cost savings achieved through the economies of scale. This likely is true. But do not mistake that the savings to be gained will have a significant impact on property taxes. Middletown Township schools (12th largest district in the state) and municipality have been the advantage of size and have been sharing services for years. Property taxes have never stopped increasing.

Regionalization may slow down the rate of growth of property taxes. It will not bring increases to a halt. It will never induce a negative growth rate so that property taxes actually go down. It is a silver bullet with a lead core.

Regionalization and Consolidation are Good Ideas

These ideas are good but just should not be confused with the issue of what is the real problem with the Property Tax: It is inherently unfair through inflicting a disproportionately high share of the overall tax levy upon lower, middle and no income taxpayers.

So, consolidation and regionalization are good things to pursue, just not as a cure or panacea for the Property Tax. They ought to be done only because it is good stewardship of all tax dollars. The fact that property taxes are seen as too high ought not to constitute the reason for taking these measures. If all services presently funded by property taxes were funded some other way, these steps would still be necessary.

Home Rule: Impediment to Implementing

One aspect of regionalization that prevents it from gaining headway is the fear of the loss of home rule by voters. Some dismiss this as a mythical power anyway. But, to a certain degree, it is true.

One only need consider how much influence they have over matters occurring at the county or state level as opposed to what they can get done locally. This makes it a hard choice. It is the common experience that the further away from the direct eye of the local voter politicians get, the more subject they are subject to special interests as well as displaying the tendency to vote in liberal social policies (you may find condoms handed out in Newark schools but you won’t in Rumson, Holmdel or Middletown).

Not a Silver Bullet

The experience of those who have gone through this process elsewhere is that the savings can be miniscule. And even when substantial, they are not enough to reverse increases in property taxes. There are also circumstances due to existing law which might actually cause increased cost if consolidation were forced. For example, state law requires the contract for the largest union to be used when district’s combine. If that happens to be the most lucrative for the unions, taxes will be going up overall, not down.

A Good Idea But Not Relevant To This Issue

Nevertheless, if cost savings are to be found, they ought to be pursued. Home rule issues need to be ironed out. But, again, do not mistake these proposed actions with being necessary to resolve the problem with the oppressive Property Tax system. The benefit will be marginal at best. High property taxes can only be cured through the adoption of a fairer means of collecting taxes. It can never be fair. Elimination is the only cure.

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