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Free New Jersey: The Burden of Property Tax Exemptions

Imagine a colonial New Jersey town 300 years ago. It has one church; the townspeople are predominantly of one faith. The town is miles from its nearest neighbor, so everyone lives, works and goes to school there. There is a town doctor, but no hospital. The town has businesses that trade on the river and serve surrounding farmers from time to time, but for the most part the residents consume what services the town provides. And these services are relatively few, so government expenses are low and paid for entirely by a tax the town levies on residents' homes and land-a property tax, as it were.

DISGRACED MAYOR: Russo's benefits slashed

Former Hoboken Mayor Anthony Russo, who is serving a 30-month federal prison term for mail fraud, was dealt a personal setback yesterday as trustees of the state's public employees retirement fund slashed his pension benefits and canceled his public health insurance coverage.

Eminent Domain Abuse & Hoboken, New Jersey

April 14, 2006 Hoboken, New Jersey was once the busy port city of Elia Kazan's 1954 film, "On The Waterfront". But by the 1970's, Hoboken had ceased to be a contender. Laid low by post industrial malaise, many of its docks and factories were half empty or abandoned. Then, at the end of the decade, Hoboken hit real estate pay dirt. As the price of housing climbed in Manhattan across the Hudson, Hoboken picked up a massive outflow of young, middle class professionals. Apartment and condo towers sprang up like mushrooms along the waterfront, and development became the city's primary economic engine. Since Hoboken was considered an urban orphan, much of its redevelopment was accomplished with financial assistance from federal, state and local government, through various forms of direct funding, tax breaks, and advantageous loans. Some arrangements carried the stipulation developers provide a degree of affordable housing for those displaced by the Manhattan exodus.

Circa 2006, mile square Hoboken is fast becoming a mini mirror of Manhattan. A place where only the wealthy, or the subsidized (albeit in lesser numbers) can afford housing. The initial middle class emigres were followed by waves of the more affluent, and the revitalization that began on the waterfront has reached the far corners of the city. Hoboken is now one of the most expensive swaths of real estate in New Jersey. Yet taxpayers are still being tapped for development assistance, and a sizable section of the northwest part of the city is an officially designated "redevelopment area". Hence, open to the use of eminent domain.

Compromise plan pitched for Municipal Garage. Council, community advisory committee propose 240-units, nine stories

The Hoboken City Council has unveiled its redevelopment plan for the Municipal Garage on Observer Highway. The proposed plan includes zoning for 240 units of housing that could rise nine stories on Observer Highway. The buildings would get lower and lower as they move toward Newark Street.

The property has been the center of controversy since the city announced that it wanted to sell the property in order to fill a budget gap and generate revenue.

Encourage shared services

Encourage shared services
StarLedger Editorial
Monday, April 10, 2006

With money tight in the Statehouse and in town halls across the state, elected officials at all levels of government are looking for ways to economize. An obvious one is to share services.

But let's be realistic: In a state where mayors and town council members consider home rule as distinctly New Jersey as the Turnpike and the Pine Barrens, convincing them to relinquish control over anything won't be easy.

COMMENTARY: What's so complex about restraining eminent domain?

Much ballyhoo surrounded Gov. Corzine's appointing the first public advocate in more than a decade. Ronald K. Chen's first act, however, leaves a great deal to be desired. He said he needs to review the use of eminent domain for private development because it is a "complex issue." Oh brother!

What's so damned complex about passing a law that says New Jersey government can't take private property primarily for commercial development or to raise more tax revenue?

Jersey Journal Editorial: Copies of records shouldn't be costly

One assumes that New Jersey's Open Public Meeting Act became law four years ago not to make it easier for government to make a profit when people ask for public records or to make it burdensome by simply making it a costly effort to obtain documents.

Last week, a state appellate court ruled that Edison in Middlesex County placed "an unreasonable burden on the right of access guaranteed by OPRA .Such a policy is not legally sustainable."

The case stems from Edison officials refusing to provide the minutes of a public meeting unless the person requesting them waited a month for the transcript to appear on a municipal Web site or pay $55 for a copy to be placed on a computer diskette.

It should be noted that the court noted that the fee should be limited to "the cost of material and supplies." Labor, time and other costs should not even be considered.

Also last week, state Superior Court Judge Carmen Messano, sitting in Jersey City, ruled that rates Hoboken charges for copying public records for the public are excessive. A suit over the issue was brought by city resident Elizabeth Mason.

Messano said that although Hoboken followed state law that allows charges of up to 75 cents per page for the first 10 pages, it was still too much money and the cost should have been closer to private markets. Local copy shops charge 6 to 9 cents for each page. The judge also threw out the city's $28 charge for blueprints.

While the City Clerk James Farina said he does not charge for a typical open records request unless it is for a substantial amount of information, Hoboken said it will reassess its rate structure.

Mason is correct when she said that she expects the judgment to have statewide ramifications. Her case, and the one in Edison, were decided in the spirit of OPRA - as they should have been. Fees for public records should be reasonable and not an obstacle. Considering recent court rulings, the state Legislature should revise its copying fees, but municipal and county governments should not wait for Trenton to act and review their costs for providing public documents.

City votes for Municipal Garage redevelopment. Budget depends on $5M from sale, debate over what to build begins

The Hoboken City Council unanimously voted Monday night to place the city's Municipal Garage on Observer Highway into a new redevelopment zone.

This will allow the council, which also serves as the city's redevelopment authority, to sell the property to a redeveloper for a sizable profit.

But some worry that the city shouldn't be basing development and zoning decisions largely on the need to fill a budget hole.

$73.2M city budget; $51M school budget

Hoboken residents will be able to speak at Wednesday's City Council meeting on the proposed $73.2 million Hoboken city budget, and they will be able to vote on April 18 on the recently approved $51.2 million school budget.

Both budgets figure into residents' property tax payments, along with the county budget to be struck in June.

League of Municipalities working to muzzle public

Sometimes the tail can wag the dog, and the New Jersey State League of Municipalities proves it.

Unknown to most New Jersey residents, the league describes itself on its Web site as "a voluntary association created to help communities do a better job of self-government through pooling information resources and brain power." The league also states that it "is authorized by state statute and since 1915 has been serving local officials throughout the Garden State. . . . Over 560 mayors and 13,000 elected and appointed officials of member municipalities are entitled to all of the services and privileges of the league."

Despite the rosy picture of public service painted by the league, in reality it is a self-appointed shadow government that functions in relative anonymity behind local governments elected by the citizens. Regardless of what it claims, the league's employees, who never face an electorate, tell elected members of local governments what is best for their constituents.