TWP June Workshop Crib Notes: No 24-hour police, no major road repairs this year, and what a 2019 Municipal Tax might look like

pothole
My favorite Heller Hill Pothole… as of June 2, 2018 (hopefully gone by this post)

I attended the Blairstown Township Committee monthly Town hall “Workshop” meeting on Wednesday, June 27, and learned a couple of things I thought I would pass along in case you hadn’t heard:

  • No 24-hour Blairstown Policing on the Horizon: The Township has scrubbed its previously announced November public referendum on whether to expand the Blairstown Police to a 24-hour operation. The Committee members stated that the move would be cost prohibitive given the current fiscal situation where there just isn’t even revenue to cover both the cost of additional policing and the Township’s pressing need to fix its roads…
  • No Major Road Repairs in 2018: New Jersey contributes one paved road to Blairstown a year. This year’s contribution will go to fixing Mohican Road. That’s it. All other paving repairs would need to come from the Blairstown budget. However, since there is no money in the 2018 budget for road paving, the only action the Township can take this year is to fill the worst of the potholes with patches. (If you have a doozy of a pothole you want fixed, contact the town and they will have the DPW fix it.) Any 2019 paving projects will need to be planned for in the 2019 budget
  • New Revenue Sources are Needed for the 2019 Budget: For months now, Township Committee members have been talking about the insufficient funds in the current budget to take care of our basic infrastructure, including roads. The discussion Wednesday night covered some specific ideas to include, establishing a new Municipal Tax and getting a loan to cover the cost of the road repairs. The cost of the tax to the tax payers’ would be offset by cutting the “Municipal Open Space” tax in half – from $.02 per $100 of assessed home value down to $.01.
  • How Much New Revenue is Needed? According to Township documents, every additional penny of taxes per $100 of assessed home value only provides the Township with an additional $71,000 in annual revenue. Mayor Lance felt that the Township needed to be aggressive with a possible temporary increase of $.05 per $100 of assessed value in order to care for just the road problem. Such an increase would add about $355,000 to the Township’s coffers. This would certainly be helpful given that at the May meeting the Township identified more than $1.5 million in needed road repairs. Deputy Mayor Van Valkenburg suggested that any additional taxes could be used to pay down the loan that would be needed to fix the roads.
  • How Much Might Your Taxes Increase by? The answer depends on your property’s assessment. According to 2016 data from the US Census Bureau there are 2,325 total housing units in Blairstown at a median value of $304,000. After analyzing figures from the Township’s May presentation, it appears that every penny of tax assessed on a $304,000 property is worth around $30. So at the end of the day, if the Township assessed a new five cent tax to fix the roads, while dropping our open space tax by one cent, the median household would incur an extra $120.00 annually, about $10 a month or $0.33 a day. If your house is worth more, the rate would be higher. If your house is worth less, the figure would be lower. The $10 a month is just an example.

For all this, it’s early days when it comes to decisions around the 2019 budget. Much will change in the months and weeks to come as more information becomes available and discussions take place. However, if we want to have a say in how our local government is run we need to be a part of those discussions. Yes, that means showing up. As you can see, attending the Township Committee meetings can be quite enlightening. I highly recommend it, though you may want to fuel up on some coffee before you get there as they tend to run a little long at times!

Kevin Doell

What’s In Your Better Blairstown?

#BetterBlairstown

We had a great campaign kickoff party yesterday. The event attracted a truly diverse set of people who shared a great many things in common. One commonality among all was the desire to make a #BetterBlairstown.

As part of our research, Karen and I hung a large sheet of paper on the wall. We offered up some crayons and waited to see what would happen. Sometimes the most powerful way to engage is not with a statement, but with a question so we asked, “What’s in your Better Blairstown?”

In all, I counted 46 comments and a good number of exclamation points. Here’s what folks wrote from the left side of the wall to the right. (No political puns intended, though a good pun nevertheless as you’ll see from the comments below.):

  • Unrestricted recreational
  • Even treatment of events
  • Call Pete!
  • Understanding differences
  • Tennis courts
  • Different cuisine
  • Roads paved
  • Keep taxes low
  • More Democrats
  • Live feed TC meetings
  • Switch police coverage instead of 24/7. Leave 4am-10am on state watch, instead of 12 am – 6 am
  • Better and professional town website that also lists all the town events + businesses. Make Blairstown attractive to prospective residents
  • Support senior citizen development / complex
  • Reconfigure COHA map
  • Create schedule for future road paving projects
  • Dedicated Democrats!
  • Newly paved roads
  • Clean water
  • Progress
  • More things to do!
  • Work on Bus. Develop.
  • Train service to Hoboken / NY
  • Trains and buses to get to work!
  • Protected land
  • Jobs!
  • A Welcoming Community for ALL!
  • Fix roads
  • Fix Sewer
  • Fix the F Sewer working together
  • Community Center
  • Community Center
  • Creative thinking to solve issues
  • More for kids that went into sports
  • Change
  • Restaurants! Not just pizza
  • Support alternative, common sense waste management
  • Bring the Community Together Rep + Dem = One Voice
  • Keep our taxes low
  • A Booming downtown
  • A café or hangout spot that stays open late
  • Paid EMT!
  • Bike lanes
  • Televise town meetings so all can see and hear the issues. Can go through facebook.
  • Darker skies!
  • Don’t allow public officials to intimidate those who are working for positive change
  • Community Pool

When all was said and done, the question posed to those who attended was, “How would getting representatives elected to Township Committee that shared their viewpoints impact their ability to achieve their goals for Blairstown?”

For me, the answer is that we will start making progress and building momentum for positive change.

The question also calls to mind that it will take a concerted group effort to make it happen. We need the community’s support and investment if we are to be successful. Please donate today if you can, or lend your talents to our campaign as we work to make a #BetterBlairstown for all who live here.

Kevin Doell

Time is running out for the “Energy Receipts Tax Property Tax Relief”

decline in energy tax receipts

Blairstown is running out of money. This point was made pretty clear at the April 25th Blairstown Township Committee Workshop meeting. You can see the full slide deck here. Each year, the budget runs about $4 million just to keep the lights on, so to speak. We get about $3M from the energy receipts tax and plug the $1 million dollar hole with fund balance reserves, which are fast being depleted. None of the money comes from local taxes because we just so happen to live in one of the handful of communities in New Jersey that doesn’t have a municipal tax.

That’s right. There are no municipal taxes in Blairstown. Period. Instead, our bills have been paid for by a power company for decades on end. But the well has been drying up over the years as others have tapped into the same resource and we need to look for other resources to keep our township going.

During the meeting, the Township leaders laid out a picture of declining revenues in the face of increasing need. For example, there was one slide showing the need for more than $1.5 million in road repairs, above and beyond the pot holes we drive over every day. There was also mention of the need for a new fire truck, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Then there was another slide that spoke to the desire to increase local policing to run a 24-hour coverage at an additional cost of about $414,000. We learned that this decision would be left to the voters in a referendum in the November election.

What was ironic here was that while it was clear that Blairstown doesn’t have enough revenue to pay for what we already have, suddenly the conversation shifted to a debate on whether or not to have a 24-hour police force. The fact that we don’t have the money to pay our “normal” bills was left behind.

This will prove to be an interesting discussion in the months to come as we figure out as a community what to do about the impending budget shortfall. What was plain to see is that the energy receipts money tree has lost its bloom. Soon we will all have a lot more “skin in the game” as we pick up the tab and begin the make investment decisions that affect the future of our community.

The big question is, when will we run into a deficit scenario? The graph above shows years past. What will the graph show for five years hence? That’s a question for the next town hall meeting.

 

Better Blairstown Blog Comments Policy

On these pages we will share our thoughts on the issues facing Blairstown as they pertain to our candidacy. Sometimes we will cover economic issues, other times, community happenings, or issues around communications and accountability.

We hope this proves to be a positive forum to share ideas on how to make a “Better Blairstown” for all residents. We don’t expect everyone to agree with our ideas, but we feel this needs to be an online space that is safe for disagreement. As such we will ask that everyone adhere to our comments policy below, which is intended to keep the “civil in civics.”

We reserve the right to delete any comments that are in poor taste, mean, snarky, or downright uncivil. We believe in the First Amendment freedom of speech, so if someone wishes to violate the comments policy, they should feel free to share those thoughts on their own blog or social media platform, not ours.

Special thanks to Michael Hyatt for sharing his thoughtful policy in the spirit of open exchanges.

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