From the Philly Inquirer:
When two New Jersey towns asked voters to approve a property-tax hike last month, Gov. Christie scorned them.
The state’s other 564 municipalities didn’t seek permission to exceed the 2 percent cap on tax increases. Didn’t Medford and Lawrence Townships know how to cut spending?
But Christie was mum a few days later when his administration quietly gave Chesterfield the go-ahead to raise municipal taxes a whopping 458 percent. The average tax bill in the tiny rural Burlington County community will jump nearly $1,000.
“Wow, whew,” Medford Mayor Randy Pace said last week, as budgets across the state were being finalized, when he learned about Chesterfield’s numbers. Medford voters agreed to a 30 percent tax increase after painful debate.
“We were vilified for what we did,” Pace said, referring to Christie’s lambasting town officials on radio broadcasts. But if Chesterfield needs to raise its tax that much, there must be a reason, Pace said.
Like Medford, there are special circumstances at work in Chesterfield. Neither town has raised taxes for about five years and both now face fiscal challenges. But unlike Medford, Chesterfield didn’t need voter approval to fix its finances.
Chesterfield is one of 18 municipalities statewide that enjoy a little-known exemption to the tax-hike cap. Towns and boroughs are exempted when they have a tax rate of less than 10 cents per $100 of assessed real estate value, according to the Division of Local Government Services, which approves municipal budgets.
Most are tiny and offer few services.
Chesterfield, whose population of 4,600 enjoys no municipal trash collection, adopted a $4 million municipal budget last month that called for the tax rate to jump to nearly 30 cents from 5 cents. For property assessed at the township average of $396,900, municipal taxes will go up $961, to $1,171. County and school taxes are still being calculated, but the average overall tax bill last year was $8,623.