Fax: (908) 874-0032
Montgomery News
A hometown paper
Montgomery Township
and Rocky Hill, NJ

Monday March 19, 2018


Montgomery News Directory

Township vs School Taxes Weighed at Committee Meeting

Residents fed up with rising taxes approached Township Committee and began a dialogue regarding where local tax monies go.

Mayor Ed Trzaska said, "The school budget is 70% of property taxes; Somerset County taxes are 12%; we (Montgomery Township) is also 12% and the other 6% is broken up between Somerset County Library System, fire departments and smaller things. In general 88% of your tax bills are other entities than the township and mainly the schools' budget, $90 to $95 million per year."

Harold Wasserman of Skillman, a longtime resident and tax-concerned senior citizen, confronted the Committee about the use of millions of taxpayer dollars to come.

Mayor Ed Trzaska that $5.9 million of township funds would be allocated towards the purchase of the 45- acre former Convatec site in September or October "for multiple reasons." The purchase's total bond amount, with Montgomery's partnership with Somerset County's Open Space Trust Fund, can go as high as $25 million.

Frank Drift a Sunset Road resident, got a laugh from the Committee and Administrator Donato Nieman when he said he's the oldest person in the room at 75. He pays about $80,000 a year in taxes and he could not afford to retire in Montgomery if he wanted to.

The mayor commented that the school board does have a tough task to weigh operating costs. "Both at the municipal level and school level, Montgomery gets the lowest amount of state aid to both our district and one of the lowest municipal aid, per capita. Schools are only receiving $500 to $600 per student on average so 95% of the school budget is funded by our property taxes," Trzaska said.

Committeeman Mark Conforti, who was a member of Montgomery's Board of Education for three years, said that residents should address every concern and hold the governing boards accountable.
"There is everything you can say about the schools' budget. Yes some of it is out of the control of the community, which was a frustration for me, but you should still go there and keep them on their toes," Conforti said.

Wasserman called the elimination of student activity fees for 2017-2018 merely "trimming around the edges."

Conforti said that since the school district's budget is over three times the annual Montgomery Township budget those edges can accumulate to over half a million dollars of annual tax revenue, and citizens, "Do have a voice in this. Don't think fighting on the edges of their budget, which is substantially bigger, does not have an impact."

The mayor put it bluntly. Montgomery experienced a revenue decrease after unprecedented building and development in town took shape two decades ago. "We had 20 years of a lot of growth but since 2005 and 2006 there has not been much new development. With development going on in town we raked in so much revenue that were able to roll back taxes. There was one year Montgomery took in $19 million in cash surplus due to all the development going on. When the growth stops that cash goes away and we are left with a massive hole. The main thing we have seen is a revenue decrease in the past 10 to 12 years," Trzaska told residents.

Township Committeewoman Christine Madrid explained that municipal spending has grown to meet the town's expanded development too, unless a sustainable margin had been created. "The spending remains, but the same revenue source was no longer there," she said on August 3.

Administrator Nieman compounds this by saying despite large-scale projects residents see underway now, "The money is no longer there."

He says in Montgomery the increase in demand for services (police, staff in departments, code inspections, etc.) has multiplied consistently. "We had 20 MTPD officers at one time. Now we are at 34 officers and our population is growing. People wanted to have all local roads salted and sanded after snowstorms, so we had to build a facility to contain supply. Before we didn't have enough trucks to cover township roads. We had one five-yard dump truck to maintain over 150 miles of municipal roadways. Otherwise we had just F150 pickups and that was not sufficient, so we had to buy more dump trucks," Nieman explained.
He reminded Wasserman and others in the audience of how Montgomery was paralyzed by the blizzard of 1996. Nieman said he too is a senior citizen facing continued high taxes, but Montgomery has an obligation to provide employees with a functional, proper workplace.

Mayor Trzaska commented on mass reductions in debt by Montgomery Township. "Over the past seven years we've cut spending 20% from a high budget of $31 million. We have cut and laid off 30 to 40 people from the high budget. As a team we inherited $62 million in township debt in 2010, and we cut that down to $27 million," the mayor said.

He says if MTSD achieved a budget cut of 20% like the township has since he's been on the Committee, "You would notice in your taxes big-time."

More Featured Articles