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Column: Another Good Year for Local Budgets?

State aid is up for schools and flat for municipalities, but despite Gov. Christie's generosity, it's still less than before he took office.

Gov. Chris Christie’s budget announcement last week had relatively good news for local officials.

Relatively.

Aid to schools would rise an average of 9 percent throughout Morris County under the governor’s budget proposal. Every district in Morris would get more state aid in the coming year, with increases ranging from 1 percent in Lincoln Park to 34.7 percent in Mendham Township, which just happens to be Christie’s hometown.

The only aid decrease nearby is in Hopatcong, , although there are some even bigger decreases elsewhere in the state: Wildwood Crest, Monmouth Regional and Seaside Park are among those facing double-digit cuts in aid.

Any increase in aid is, of course, good news.

But the increase is still relative, because any proposed increases still would give just about every school in the state less state aid than they were allocated under former Gov. Jon Corzine’s last budget. In 2009-2010, Corzine budgeted almost $170 million for districts. Christie’s first year in office, he cut that amount by more than a third; statewide, the governor cut nearly $1 billion.

Next year, Christie has proposed nearly $144 million for Morris County schools. That’s still 15.3 percent less than Corzine had budgeted for 2009-10.

Municipalities find themselves in worse shape.

The governor did not propose any increase this year, although officials are grateful not to be facing a reduction in aid. Still, flat funding means no additional money for police and other local services.

Municipal aid also remains lower than it was under Corzine’s last budget, for 2010.

That year, Morris County municipalities got a total of $60.5 million from the state. This year, they are slated to get $48 million, or 20 percent less.

The New Jersey State League of Municipalities is unhappy, and the blame goes beyond Christie’s tenure.

“For over 10 years, regardless of political affiliation, no administration has proposed a budget that honors the promise made to our property taxpayers, that Energy Tax and CMTRA funding would be annually adjusted to account for inflation in municipal costs,” said the league’s statement.

Yet costs do rise and taxpayers have to foot the bill, unless officials take extraordinary measures.

They did that last year. Some municipal and school officials agreed to wage freezes. A few actually took pay cuts.

Because of these sacrifices and the state’s tight 2 percent cap on property tax growth, many Morris municipalities kept property taxes flat or even reduced them slightly. And Morris voters approved every single school budget for the first time in recent memory; 80 percent passed statewide.

The vote won’t be an issue in the vast majority of districts this year. According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, 86 percent of the state’s districts have taken advantage of a new law that allows them to move the school board elections to November and eliminate the school budget vote provided the state within the mandated cap. Notably, the Morris School District and Pequannock are among those maintaining their April elections, giving people a say on spending, as well as a non-partisan vote for board members.

With the state aid numbers only just released, budget discussions are just beginning. What kind of property tax changes this year will bring remain to be seen. But anyone who cares—and that’s really everyone, isn’t it—can have his say, if not at the polls, at municipal council and school board meetings.

Roll Back Our Tax February 27, 2012 at 01:02 PM
The teachers didn't have enough insight to forfeit the 4.45% wage increase in the last year of their contract to increase state aid. Instead teachers got laid off and Hopatcong got less aid. http://hopatcong.patch.com/articles/hopatcong-schools-to-get-760k-less-state-aid-than-in-2011 Still waiting to see what new forms of greed the new teacher's contract will bring since it had to go to state for mediation. I predict 2-3% increases in wages. http://hopatcong.patch.com/articles/hopatcong-teachers-strike-tenative-contract Plus our schools can't even score above state average in math and English skills. http://hopatcong.patch.com/articles/high-school-test-scores-show-mixed-results-locally Yet we have the 3rd highest cost in Sussex county to educate @ $17,040/student. At a time when we should be counting every penny, Mayor Petillo gave the borough employees 3% raises over next 3 years, the Superintendent doesn't want to close a school despite declining enrollment, the School Board President and former Mayor Cliff Lundin doesn't want to start a Citizens Audit Committee despite rising costs and we continue to kick the can down the road with more debt. The budget will come up for vote again because they're over the 2% cap, we'll defeat it and once again the taxpayers get blamed. http://hopatcong.patch.com/articles/hopatcong-school-budget-vote-elections-see-changes Looking at a 8-10% increase in real estate taxes. Wake up Hopatcong!
Maxim Sapozhnikov February 27, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Three words that explain our state's misery: Abbott, COAH, and NJEA.
Lurky Loo February 27, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Really! I mean where was the compassion 2 years ago?? Ryder didn't even see fit to show up to hear the town's complaints. How dare them say it's all about the children! Ryder sholuld be ashamed and the teachers need to grow a pair and stand up to their rep or get a new one. They hide behind the NJEA and then wonder why they get negative feedback and failed budgets, they cut their own throats before making a shared sacafice. The Admin. is no better. They lay off teachers but create new jobs in the office! To cronies no less. How many more people do we need sitting around taking up space for 80,000k a year and not even come in contact with students, while the classrooms get bigger and bigger..OH believe me there is more than enough blame to go around without blaming the town for turning down your bloated BS budgets you try to sneak past us every year!!
Roll Back Our Tax February 27, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Lurky Loo...actually I want that rep for the NJEA for Hopatcong to stay in that position. They have the "potential" to become my best salesperson for appealing our taxes. When they are done with this town we'll be in bankruptcy and we can get a fresh start!
Roll Back Our Tax March 08, 2012 at 09:26 PM
All except for Hopatcong... Try 6.8% increase this year because that is what the borough is going to approve at their next council meeting next month if the taxpayers don't show up and complain. If you're paying $5,000/year your increase is $340. If you're paying $10,000/year your increase is $680 If you're paying $15,000/year your increase is $1,020. If you're paying $20,000/year your increase is $1,360 If you're paying $25,000/year your increase is $1,700 If you're paying $30,000/year your increase is $2,040. Don't be mislead by "average" or "borough" increases. This includes totals for borough, county and school. Since the teachers contract has not been posted on line yet http://www.perc.state.nj.us/publicsectorcontracts.nsf they are speculating they will stay under the 2% cap. LOL! This town is out of their mind!

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