All but one district facing school tax hike

All but one district facing school tax hike

All but one district
facing school tax hike

Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news, but unfortunately it is that time of year, once again, when we newspapers must inform the local taxpayers how much more could come out of their pockets to fund their local school systems.

And again this year, most school districts in our coverage area will see double-digit tax rate increases for 2004-05 if voters give the proposed tax levies the OK at the polls in April.

Locally, Spotswood leads the pack with a proposed tax rate increase of 39 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, which translates to $270 more being owed in school taxes for the owner of the average home, assessed at roughly $70,000. East Brunswick’s proposed 25-cent hike would mean another $250 on a home assessed at $100,000.

Not far behind are Monroe and Milltown, each proposing 15-cent increases in their school tax rates. Sayreville and South River are each looking at a 10-cent increase, which would see the average homeowner paying $144 more in Sayreville; $80 in South River. Old Bridge’s tax rate is expected to climb almost 9 cents, while Jamesburg, which absorbed a 72-cent increase over the past two years, is looking at a 3-cent hike.

In this region, only Helmetta will see a decrease — a major one at that, as the tax rate will drop 77 cents, or 17 percent. It’s important to note, though, that school taxes in Helmetta went up 40 percent between 2000-01 and the present school year.

In recent years, the state has made a practice of holding aid to the school districts flat. This year, local districts will see a 3 percent increase, which certainly came in handy. But in most cases, it hardly made up for the problems caused by the flat funding in previous budgets — problems including skyrocketing taxes, program and staff cuts, and, in general, a scenario in which the quality of education easily suffered.

School districts continue to face tougher federal and state mandates, requiring them to spend more on staff to help meet the goals set out in programs such as the federal No Child Left Behind Act and rising fixed costs — like insurance — which the districts have no choice but to pay.

State and federal funding has not kept pace with the changes, so the districts have passed the costs on to the taxpayers.

The system by which schools are funded in New Jersey is broken and must be fixed. Any real reform needs to start at the state level before it can filter down to the school districts.

Before hitting the polls in April, voters should write a letter to their state legislators and the governor and urge them to move real property-tax reform to the top of the agenda.