From the Star Ledger:
When New Jersey announced that property taxes went up by an average of 3.3. percent last year — the smallest increase in a decade of rapid growth — some hailed it as evidence that a 3-year-old law capping annual increases at 4 percent had finally taken hold.
But a closer look shows the law is hardly a fire wall.
Nearly a third of the state’s 566 municipalities raised property taxes above the cap with the state’s permission last year, many because they were able to show they were facing virtual civic dysfunction, a Star-Ledger review shows. Through hundreds of pages of applications asking to exceed the cap, school and town officials spared no adjectives when describing what would happen without relief: The police force would be cut. Special education aides would be fired. Fire hydrants would not be installed.
“Impossible” one town said of the budget it would produce under the cap. “Catastrophic” disruptions to basic services, warns another.
Still others envisioned Armageddon scenarios:
Carlstadt, where property taxes rose 10 percent, claimed it would “have no alternative but to shut down all operations in the borough.” Lake Como, where taxes jumped nearly 9 percent, said denying a waiver to spend more “would jeopardize the public health and safety.”
Of 76 towns that asked to exceed the cap last year, 62 were approved, according to state records. Of 33 school districts, 25 were approved — though many at a far smaller dollar amount than they asked for. The state granted $12.3 million of the requested $35.4 million in waivers for schools — down from $33.2 million of a requested $58.6 million in 2008. Towns that were approved asked for more than $47 million in exceptions.
Other local governments did not need state permission because the costs driving their tax hikes — such as health care or rising school enrollments were not subject to the cap.