With official county stamp, WO property taxes increase

WEST ORANGE, NJ — West Orange residents are paying a little more in property taxes than they did last year per the Essex County Board of Taxation’s recently issued 2016 Certification of Tax Rate, the document that sets the definitive legal tax rate for the township.

The certification sets the 2016 tax rate at $3.89, which is 1.91 percent more than the $3.817 set for 2015. Considering that the average assessed value of a single family house in West Orange is $338,049, the average homeowner will pay $13,150.11 in property taxes, with 24.8 percent going to the municipality, 14.3 percent going to the county and 60.9 percent going to the school district. Last year, the average cost was $12,898.25; this represents an increase of $251.86.

This is the fifth year in a row — following the township’s 2011 property reassessment — that the tax rate has increased. Compared to the 2011 rate of $3.481, the number has increased by 11.75 percent over that time.

The tax levy, upon which the tax rate is computed, has also increased for the fifth year — to $217,812,347.15 in 2016 from $213,754,461.26 in 2015. This year’s number includes $31,112,211.53 in combined net county and county open space taxes; $132,632,637 in the school tax; and $54,067,498.62 in combined municipal purpose, municipal open space and library taxes. Overall, it is a $4,057,886 increase from last year’s levy, or a 1.9-percent change.

While the tax rate and tax levy are increasing, the tax base has continued to decrease for the fifth straight year. The base, or the township’s net valuation taxable, dipped to $5,599,688,525 in 2016 from $5,601,313,855 in 2015. That is a $1,625,330 drop, or a downward 0.03-percent change.

Mayor Robert Parisi said it is always disappointing to see a tax rate increase as a result of raising municipal taxes. But he said there was simply no way of avoiding a tax increase this year considering the numerous services West Orange provides and the employee salaries and health benefits it must cover.

Parisi said the township already does all it can to keep costs down such as eliminating some programs and privatizing others. In fact, he said West Orange has reduced its workforce by more than 65 employees since he took office in 2010. Still, he said tax raises are sometimes inevitable.

“It’s just a fact of life, unfortunately,” Parisi told the West Orange Chronicle in an Aug. 1 phone interview. “We’re always going to balance the services we’re providing with the cost. But it’s completely inaccurate to say that we can maintain no cost increase ever. It’s regrettable, but it’s not realistic.”

Council President Victor Cirilo agreed that it was difficult to cut expenses this year when the township was already down to a “bare bones” budget. And though taxes had to be raised this year, Cirilo stressed that the Township Council always is considerate of the township’s finances and how they are used.

“We do the best that we can to maintain the balance between fiscal responsibility and making sure that we continue to maintain the same community with the same services,” Cirilo told the Chronicle in an Aug. 1 phone interview.

Moving forward, Cirilo said he would like to see the township increase its tax base by improving its commercial tax base. To do this, he said West Orange should continue to market itself as a business-friendly community and use the Downtown West Orange Alliance to attract vendors to the area. The Edison Village redevelopment project will also be a boon to the township once it is completed, the council president added.

But Councilman Joe Krakoviak, the only council member to vote against the municipal budget, said there is a lot that the township could have done to better its financial situation and prevent another tax rate increase. For one, Krakoviak said the council should have spent its money wisely instead of paying for the Gregory school improvements and awarding a grant writing contract to a firm that was not the lowest bidder. He added that West Orange could have also brought in revenue by charging for its jitney service — an idea he has long suggested.

In all, Krakoviak told the Chronicle that the township needs to better manage its spending if it is ever going to increase its tax base.

“One of the most important things to do to make a municipality more attractive to property owners is to stop raising taxes so much,” Krakoviak said in a July 29 phone interview. “If we keep raising taxes, property values go down because people don’t want to own property here. And then we have to raise taxes more to keep the spending the same. It becomes a self-perpetuating function.”