Editor’s Note: The following is an op-ed by former Central Regional Board Member Robert J. “Bob” Everett Jr.
The overall high cost of living, economic status and financial health in New Jersey is a hot topic these days, as many families struggle to make ends meet. Discussion of this battle for financial survival often comes back to the extremely high tax burden; in particular, New Jersey’s highest in the nation property taxes.
The bottom line on property taxes is that they are a LOCAL issue, directly related to how much we decide to SPEND. If you start to investigate the issue to gain a better understanding and seek a solution, the average person quickly gets overwhelmed by the rhetoric from all sides.
In my experience, there are two clichés that sum up our situation.
To paraphrase, the first is when you are stuck in a hole and want to get out; the first thing you need to do is stop digging. The second is the old definition of insanity: always doing things the way you always have and hoping for different results.
Central Regional has decided to stop digging – or at least start using a much smaller shovel, and it is finally time to stop the insanity of basing our decisions on the poor decisions made in other townships and by other school boards.
Contract negotiations have been at an impasse; the current contract expired last June. This is not unusual at Central or at other districts. What is unique is that it has rapidly progressed to fact finding – and the results of the fact finding study will be made public. The board should not be concerned to share the facts with its constituents.
Some of the facts that should come out are:
- Median Incomes, 2014 (US Census Data)
o Berkeley Township $43,558
o Lacey Township $71,835
o Toms River Twsp $72, 939
o Brick Township $69,063
- Household incomes in Ocean County (Berkeley lower) DECREASED from 2009
o 2009: $65,884
o 2014: $63,653
- Seniors received no cost of living increases for not only the first time in HISTORY, but 3 times! (2010, 2011, 2016)
- Our townships lost millions of dollars in ratables, dramatically shifting tax burdens
- 2 million residents fled NJ, many due to cost of living increases
- Businesses closed by the dozens
- Local home foreclosures in the 100s
To be clear, the facts will show that while our communities have suffered through the great recession of 2008 followed by the devastation of super storm Sandy in 2012:
- Central teachers currently have the SECOND HIGHEST average salary in our county
- CR teachers are coming off of 7 years of contracts that gave them cumulative raises of 27.04%
- Support staff are coming off of 7 years of contracts that gave them cumulative raises of 33.9%
- Health care expenses have more than doubled during that time, even with minor plan changes. Family coverage cost in 2009: $11,056, in 2015 a whopping $25,709!
These most basic facts alone clearly debunk our union’s claims that they have not been treated “fairly”. The battle is really about health care cost. All staff must contribute to their health care paying a percentage of the premium, on a sliding scale based on their salary. Contributions were fully phased in just this year. (Total Central employee contributions did not even cover half of the yearly increase). This was a long overdue necessity mandated by the State Legislature. The point is not just to share the cost burden, it is to give incentive for all parties to seek cost control.
The unions have decided to take the opposite approach, instead of earnestly and sincerely searching for solutions to the sky rocketing health care cost, they have instead dug in and demanded no changes to health care plus salary increases to offset their share of the contributions. This effectively demands tax payers once again fund the entire costs of their very generous and expensive health care coverage. That is an unsustainable solution.
This crisis is only going to get worse. Although delayed, the ‘Cadillac tax’ looms with a potential $1 million cost in 2020. Health care cost increases show no sign of slowing down. The burden will continue to be heaped upon the tax payers, further stifling economic recovery.
Once again, Central Regional is a head of the curve. The school board values their employees and truly appreciates their contributions, that is a simple fact that no amount of heart tugging grandstanding will change. They have shown great leadership in recognizing the need to stand firm on their finances now to insure a prosperous future for their constituents. We must stop kicking our challenges down the road for the next guy to figure out. If they fold here, it will set our district back years and continue to rapidly dig a deeper and deeper hole.
I understand the anger of the parents as they hear of union action that uses their children as pawns. It is unfortunate that union leadership has chosen to take it out on the kids, but attacking our staff will do little good and only cause deeper wounds that will take longer to heal.
Please take a minute and send your words of support to the CR BOE at firstname.lastname@example.org Be sure to sign your name and what town you live in. Feel free to share your stories of the burden your property taxes.
Central Regional may not be able to fix the entire property tax issue in NJ, but it can show that the first step is stopping the insanity. It’s not personal, it’s math. They need your help to do it.
Robert J Everett Jr.