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November  29

Tax Revolts

Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that we reported that someone had started a Yahoo message board for Glen Ridge? Actually, it turns out that the Yahoo Glen Ridge Forum was the second such forum in town. It was preceded by the little-known Glen Ridge Tax Discussions.

Sound arcane? Don't forget, tax discussions can lead to big things.

Speaking of big things, and taxes, look for a forum next Thursday night, when the Glen Ridge Board of Ed and the Garden State Coalition invites taxpayers, parents and school board reps from across the county to discuss the implications of S1701 -- a bill passed by the McGreevey administration last summer to limit school spending. At the heart of the issue are questions about why schools are funded through property taxes in New Jersey, and the long-range implications of the Abbott school funding case.

The forum is called "Schools are Not the Culprit" and will be held in the Ridgewood Ave. auditorium, 235 Ridgewood Ave., Glen Ridge, Thurs. Dec. 9 at 7:30 pm.

&ETC: Lex points out that the New York Times covered the Essex County secession story in the Jersey section on Sunday. The article is not online, so you have to dig it out of your recycling or go to the library. Section 14, page 6.

November 29, 2004 in Buzz | Permalink


I was wondering if you were going to take your former employer to task for the weekend article strongly implying that the recent secession votes were racist (despite what Sharpe James said.)

The reporter seemed to think that being in the same county as Newark has nothing to do with our high county taxes. Pretty shoddy reporting, if you ask me (considering how much the county just spent on a new jail and the uneven distribution of crime in the county.) And the cherrypicking of the "selfish" quote from that Columbia professor was just inane.

The mention of your blog in the adjacent article, however, was excellent.

Posted by: Lex | Nov 29, 2004 10:29:49 AM

In my eyes the root of the property tax problems are not the school, but the State that seems to discriminate against upper middle class towns by reducing their financial aid per student in these school systems to a minimum. Talking about the school budgets, real costs and programs are important, but we are wasting our time to find a (couple) $100 per resident savings where the state support is clearly the place where the shoe hurts. I bet that if you run the numbers there will be a clear case of income discrimination when it comes to school funding by the state. The question is whether it is constitutional to discriminate school systems based on income levels of the town residents?

Posted by: glenridgeforum | Nov 29, 2004 11:51:26 AM

Secession sounds good, but where would we get the cash to buy all the county owned resources located here? You think 35M for a school is a lot of money......

If we really wanted to save money in New Jersey we should consolidate all these small towns into larger bergs that can share resources and capitalize on economies of scale.


Can you *imagine* all the class warfare that would errupt if THAT were ever attempted? !!

Posted by: Right of Center | Nov 29, 2004 11:53:06 AM

Would consolidating GR with Montclair save money? Glen Ridge has a very low cost per student... lower than Montclair's. Wouldn't consolidation mean that GR's taxes would go up?

If there were more state aid to schools, wouldn't the income tax have to go up? Wouldn't that mean that the higher income towns would be paying a disproportionate share of that increase? Wouldn't that end up costing GR and Montclair residents even more per capita than the current system?

Posted by: Lex | Nov 29, 2004 1:18:26 PM

For me the key word is "recede" not "secede". Saying we want to merge into an existing county or form a new one is to accept the basic premise of county government, which I don't, at least not at the size and cost that it has grown to. The group of people from several towns that I am working with wants to look at a series of steps that we can take to substantially reduce county government over a 10 year period. Other states have moved in this direction, why not NJ? Our towns don't have to merge but we definitely need to create a lot more "shared service" agreements that enable municpalities to "buy or sell" the services they are poor or good at. Will there always be a layer of government between the towns and the state? Probably, but it does not have to look like what we have now.

Ed Remsen

Posted by: Ed Remsen | Nov 29, 2004 1:28:42 PM

Of course, I will say that one of the *best* things about small-town NJ is the possibility of bumping into the Mayor on a local blog! (or at the supermarket for that matter)

I suppose somekind of county govenrment is required. I certainly would not want to have a local prision.

Posted by: Right of Center | Nov 29, 2004 1:34:45 PM

Ed -

The population of the towns that want to do something different with county government seems to be dwarfed by the population of the towns that gain from it; do you think it is politically possible to scale it down?

Posted by: Lex | Nov 29, 2004 1:58:00 PM

While it may be true that there are too many school districts, and perhaps a few too many municipalities in NJ, a review of our local property tax bills makes it clear that the problem in Baristaville has nothing to do with the size of our school districts or towns.

People are forever advocating merging small districts or small towns into larger ones, but this "conventional wisdom" flies in the face of political reality:

"In government, economies of scale work in reverse."

As a governmental body becomes larger, it becomes less efficient, not more. So while it might sound good on paper to merge towns or school districts, it almost never works out.

As far as counties go, Mayor Remsen is 100% right, counties are completely unnecessary. The main function they serve in NJ is to generate patronage for both political parties, that is why it will be very hard to get rid of them.

Posted by: Carl Bergmanson | Nov 29, 2004 2:28:11 PM

perhaps it is not the problem we think it is. Perhaps our taxes are just broken up in different ways.


They rate NJ as the 15th highest tax burden.

Posted by: Right of Center | Nov 29, 2004 2:58:38 PM


Except that, since NJ has the third highest per-capita income in the nation, we still pay way more than the average in per capita taxes. Why should our govrnment cost more just because we make more (I mean, it should cost a bit more since we probably pay our teachers more than in a cheaper state, but still.)

Posted by: Lex | Nov 29, 2004 3:04:19 PM


I am no economist, but to me it stands to reason that if our per capita income is *higher* then the costs to our local governments for good and services will be *higher* (all those people making higher per capita average wages) so, therefore our taxes will have to be *higher* per capita.

It is not just the teachers, but the firefighters, website redesigners, town-name consultants, bull dozers, parking-space-number'ers and lawyers to fight anti-economic redevelopment hysteria. I mean everything the town purchases must be higher than in many states. no?

Posted by: Right of Center | Nov 29, 2004 3:23:34 PM


Further: our income is 3rd highest


and if you look at the right side of this page:


Where federal taxt is factored in, our tax burden is 3rd highest.


Isn't that the kind of *progressive* tax fairness we Liberal Blue Staters should take pride in?

(it is those Connecticut bastards that are getting the deal - 2nd rank income and 8th for tax burden!)

Posted by: Right of Center | Nov 29, 2004 3:39:59 PM

p.s. on a partisan political side note, take a look again at:


check out the 1980 numbers vs. 1990 numbers.


Now, hmmmm? Who was president then? and what did the tax rates do back then? hmmmmm?

Posted by: Right of Center | Nov 29, 2004 3:47:34 PM


You assume that the big towns get a lot more; much of what the county does is serve as a "pass through" for the state or federal government. Also, it's not like the urban towns are also paying through the nose for the county.
Everything is possible politically: I think we're on to something and whether Essex County towns are screaming secession or shrink, the message is clear: it's time to try something different. We pay for our schools because we perceive that they give us value for our children and for our communities. I don't think people feel the same about the counties.

Ed Remsen

Posted by: Ed Remsen | Nov 29, 2004 4:28:01 PM


Agree to some extent, but wages are only part of the bill... health care should be the same wherever you are, cinderblocks to build prisons should be the same, etc. BUt, I don't really have enough information to make a reasoned case.

As to the 1980 numbers vs. the 1990 numbers, are you trying to blame the massive 1980s inflation on Reagan?

Sorry, just pulling your chain :-). But, seriously, these numbers need to be adjusted for inflation... would be curious what they are when that is done.

Posted by: Lex | Nov 29, 2004 4:31:36 PM

Ed -

You're seriously singing to the choir here. I'm with you all the way on the county thing. I don't mean to be defeatist, I'm just looking at the "art of the possible" with a weary eye.

On the original topic, would it make sense to sue the state (a la Abbott) because, with S1701, they are not allowing us to provide a "thorough and efficient education" to our local students?

Posted by: Lex | Nov 29, 2004 4:39:34 PM

Actually, that's exactly what we're thinking might be necessary; the school funding formula really hurts Montclair because the kids with real needs get lost among all he wealthier people who live here. The formula, except for Abbott, is one-size-fits-all and you could argue that our willingness to create and maintain a truly integrated school system bites us in the butt. There has been an "Abbott Rim" bill that would provide some funding for districts around the really tough ones but I doubt it will get passed and funded; as it is, the Abbott Districts are not getting what they were promised.


Posted by: Ed Remsen | Nov 29, 2004 5:37:25 PM

I'm no expert on the secession issue - I personally think use of the word "secession" is ugly and unnecessary given the late pleasantness between the Northern and Southern states, but I would point people interested in "realignment" to Passaic County. Much larger in land area than Essex, it apparently has generally lower municipal taxes. It also has much less costly, better run city governments than Newark and East Orange's in both Passaic and Paterson. Am I correct in assuming that, were, say, Montclair and Verona to "re-align," it'd be to Passaic County? It'd also be nice to add Brookdale Park to Passaic County's Parks system, since the county is a little light in public lands. But I never quite understand, has anyone ever spoken to authorities in Passaic County about their interest in re-alignment, as I gather "secessionists" in Millburn have with Morris County? I'd appreciate some enlightenment here.

Posted by: cathar | Nov 29, 2004 6:10:55 PM

Secession from one useless county to another useless county would mean a small savings to most Essex County towns (much would depend on the "value" of county properties and the "debt share" of the town leaving). I favor secession only as an alternative to the status quo.

County government is unnecessary and a huge waste of resources and tax dollars, it should be abolished.

(yes, I know, abolition is also evocative of the late unpleasantness between the Northern and Southern states, but, thankfully, those meanings, which are obsolete, are history. If only county government, which is also obsolete, would follow their example)

Posted by: Carl Bergmanson | Nov 29, 2004 7:26:38 PM

Living in Passaic County, I don't think of the place or of next-door Bergen, where I grew up, as a "useless county." County administrations do seem to me, in my apparent naivete, to have certain valid functions. So I don't think the county (or, anyway, administrative district) concept is dead. It definitely isn't in, for example, the UK. (And Montclair definitely has a very interesting sort of "High Street.") So it's fashionable to view county government as utterly expendable. Okay, but if it goes, does anyone out there really trust the state to replace what county government now does? You want state road crews and all their attendant laziness? More equitable distribution of prisons? A more bloated state government than it already is? Again, I may be just a humble resident of a useless county, but that doesn't sound like much of a viable alternative.

Posted by: cathar | Nov 29, 2004 10:51:21 PM

In a place where there is no municipality, counties can be useful. That place is not NJ. Every square inch of this state is part of one of our 566 municipalities. And I don't advocate having the state take over all the functions of the county, in some cases it would make more sense to have the municipalities take some functions over, but the fact is that the state is already doing many of them anyway, or something related and/or very similar.

Don't forget, as Mayor Remsen pointed out earlier in this thread, a lot of the $ we do get from the county is really not from the county at all, it is state or federal $ that the county filters down to us.

As to some of the other "irreplaceable"
county services: A number of posts here have mentioned prisons, well, the counties don't deal with prisons, the state already does that. As far as county jails, they are already highly regulated by the state; they should be integrated into the state prison system.

The governor appoints the "county" prosecutor, and the state runs the prosecutor's office, they give the county no say in its operation or in setting the budget, they just make the county pay for it (aka taxation without representation)

As far as roads are concerned, I would advocate giving most of them back to the municipalities, *along with control of them, and the tax revenue that is supposed to go with them*. Some, like Bloomfield Avenue, should be state roads anyway.

Most of the rest of the so-called county functions are already essentially run or tightly regulated or controlled by the state, integrating them with related state functions would eliminate a lot of confusion and allow for better security and accountability.

Frankly, the only tough one is the parks, but it is certainly doable. That said, if we get to the point that we have redistributed all the other county functions (and cash) up or down, I wouldn't mind an *elected* and tightly regulated Essex County Parks Commission.

Posted by: Carl Bergmanson | Nov 30, 2004 12:42:27 AM

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