A Taxing Thought
This week, Saint Matthew’s received its very first tax bill. Oh, the Borough of New Milford says they are just “passing along a sewage fee,” but in all reality, they are forwarding a tax bill.
When I was growing up over in New York, the property tax bill was always a big motivator when it came to elections. If taxes went up too much on the monthly mortgage, homeowners would dump the elected officials who raised them. And when sewage taxes went up, people also got angry at the government, wondering why they would fill the commissions and boards with those whose only real connection to anything “sewage” came from their association with various politicians and political insiders.
There was always one thing, however: Local politicians always respected local religious institutions and disabled veterans who were granted tax exempt status. No matter how high taxes were raised, they would never even consider passing along taxes to churches, temples, mosques, or to the disabled vet who was injured in war.
Over the years, politicians found that with overspending, large deficits were created. How many times when you’ve turned on the news and you’ve heard about local governments threatening to fire people or raise taxes to the extreme because they were facing a “mounting budget deficit?” Every year at budget time, some government screams that dire times have come and someone has to do something, yada, yada, yada. Honestly, I’ve gotten tired of listening to politicians singing from the same political hymn book every year.
New Milford, NJ – our hometown – is no different. Our budget is tight. There isn’t any wiggle room, our local politicians keep telling us. There are always threats of firings or reducing services every year when budget time comes up. Yet, after reworking the numbers, the dire “end of the world” threats never come true. Every year the can is kicked down the road, leaving the heavy lifting for future councils. But some how, money is always found to hire more people or to give raises or to sign larger and larger contracts that taxpayers have to end up funding.
Last year, the New Milford Mayor and Council adopted a law hoisting the sewage tax on the backs of tax exempt organizations. Now, they do not call it a tax; instead, they call it a “fee,” which, in the opinion of this pastor, is a public relations’ joke. It is a tax passed along to organizations that are tax exempt. I don’t care how many times they call it a “fee,” they will never mask it in my eyes.
It is a tax.
It walks like a tax, looks like a tax, quacks like a tax.
If the local political officials had the courage to just call it that, I would not be angry. In fact, I would probably be standing in their corner applauding them for asking residents to pull together and make difficult choices for the borough’s betterment. Instead, they pretend like they are arbitrators of fairness by passing along this tax to tax exempt organizations, masking it as a ‘passing along’ of a broad-based sewage fee. And trust me, in order to get our money’s worth with this tax, we’d have to really start flushing the toilets at church and the parsonage a lot more each week. A LOT MORE!
And why are they doing this? Simply because no one had the foresight to fix the underlying problem with our local budget, they are raising taxes on every homeowner, business owner, and yes, even tax exempt organizations. Homeowners have been taking it in on the chin for years – and not just in our hometown. Last month here in New Milford, each homeowner was told to expect a $21 tax increase on top of their promised property tax increase because the council wanted to set aside money to pay for the borough’s property reassessment – and you can almost guarantee that after reassessment, taxes will still go up.
For if New Milford were as broke as they have been claiming for so many years, how in the world could they find money for hiring new workers or for raises for government workers while watching as people in the private sector keep getting laid off and can’t find work?
In the future, a portion of Saint Matthew’s property will be placed back in the tax rolls since we’ve contracted with T-Mobile to erect a cellular flag pole on our property, one that the borough fought in court and lost. Since this portion of the property will now used for business purposes, we knew that we’d have to pay property taxes on that part of the land. And we’ll happily pay it since that square footage of property will not be used for tax exempt purposes.
Saint Matthew’s will pay this sewage tax.
But we will not be happy about.
And I would like to publicly thank the Mayor and the Council for their continued courage of letting our churches, synagogues, and other tax exempt organizations know about this new tax last year upon passing it along. Oh, wait – they didn’t! We all found out when we got our bills this week.