By Tony Fiore, Middletown Deputy Mayor
The recent filing of the proposed JCP&L Monmouth County Reliability Project should serve as a wake-up call to all taxpayers in the state of New Jersey. The proposed 10 mile project with upwards of 200 foot monopoles to be installed on New Jersey Transit right-of way, will have a negative impact on the property values of all adjoining properties and potentially, properties within the line of site. The impact alone in Middletown could be upwards of $1.5 million in lost value. However, don’t despair taxpayers of Middletown, Holmdel, Hazlet, Aberdeen and Red Bank, according to their BPU filing, JCP&L will be making a $9.8 million payment towards the local municipalities through Energy Receipts taxes.
Energy Receipts taxes are the monies paid by electric utility companies for use of easements and equipment in a community to provide their services. In other words, the utility company pays a fee for you and I having to deal with power lines, sub stations, utility poles, and so on and so forth. You may be thinking Middletown may lose millions in property values but JCP&L will make up for it so it should all work out in the end. Not so fast. Since Governor McGreevy’s actions in 2002, the State of New Jersey has taken this money due to the municipalities and has used it for their own state budget purposes. Both Democratic and Republican governors alike have continued the state’s skim on suburban taxpayers to the tune of millions of dollars per year. Fortunately this was challenged in court and the state was told that they could not directly take the money due to municipalities in this fashion. Thus, lawmakers in Trenton will tell you that this is not true and that municipalities do receive their energy receipts tax money. Instead, all Governors since 2007 have reduced CMTRA (Consolidated Municipal Property Tax Relief Aid) payments to local towns by the amount that is owed to the towns in Energy Receipts taxes. If a town receives $2 million in energy receipts taxes, the State of New Jersey reduces the exact amount that is supposed to be used for property tax relief to your town. Money that belongs to the taxpayers is syphoned away to be spent on wasteful state budget programs on an annual basis instead of reducing our property taxes.
Since 2007, Middletown Township has seen Trenton skim over $40 million dollars that rightfully belongs in Middletown. In fact, Middletown is owed over $5 million per year in this year’s budget alone. To put that into perspective, that $5 million would have resulted in a 9% property tax reduction on the 2016 municipal tax bill with a fully funded budget to meet our obligations. This is not a one year one-time event. These cuts would be happening EVERY year. Municipal tax bills in Middletown and neighboring communities would be slashed.
If approved, the Monmouth County Reliability Project will have a negative impact on taxpayers in all of the affected municipalities. The only entity that will benefit from this project will once again be Trenton. Middletown Township has done everything we could over the past 5 years to bring this issue to light. As Mayor in 2011 and 2012, I hosted public forums with other Mayors to bring this issue to light. The Middletown Township Committee has supported countless resolutions sponsored by the League of Municipalities and supported bills that would stop this state shell game and provide the necessary property tax relief we deserve. If the leadership in Trenton is serious about helping to control the soaring costs of property taxes in New Jersey, it is time that they stop their continued Ponzi scheme financing on the backs of municipal taxpayers. The list of unfunded state mandates and diversionary programs that are breaking the backs of municipal taxpayers runs deep, and it is time that the taxpayers of New Jersey to demand the restoration of these critical funds back to the people they belong to. As I struggle to find one positive benefit to the Monmouth County Reliability Project for Middletown and our neighbors, I hope the issue brings to light an issue that would surely help provide immediate property tax relief. If the state doesn’t stop the way it does business, will the last one left please turn out the lights?