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Get Ready For Higher Taxes


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There is a rock, and there is a hard place. And in between are the taxpayers of Verona, squeezed more tightly than ever.  As the recession enters its sixth year, it is a near certainty that we will be paying more in taxes and getting less for it.

Budget-focused sessions held by the Town Council and Board of Education this week painted a clear picture of just how difficult the situation is.  In a workshop on ratables for the Town Council, Verona’s tax assessor showed that the assessed value of all property in Verona has fallen from$2.19 billion in 2010 to $2.06 billion in 2012, a decline of nearly $127 million or 5.79%.  And since Verona has very little in the way of commercial property, and even less industrial property, the bulk of that decline has hit homeowners.  Residential ratables have fallen from $1.91 billion in 2010 to $1.79 billion in 2012, a 6.11% drop.

The town budget hasn’t dropped, however, and neither has that of the BOE, though neither of those institutions bears the sole responsibility for that. The state capped budget increases at 2%, but excluded health and pension costs from the cap even though those are two of the biggest drivers of higher budgets. At the same time, Trenton has mandated that towns and schools do more on a variety of issues, without providing the funding to tackle those issues. To accommodate the unfunded mandates and the uncapped costs, towns and schools are left to chop deep into their services, and to raise taxes to cover the gap.

Verona’s multi-year approach to budgeting has eliminated the double-digit tax increases that the town often experienced in years past. But the 2012 budget was bested by $900,000 in extra costs from two substantial storms, Hurricane Irene and the Halloween weekend snowstorm. The town was able to cover all but $532,000 of that out of last year’s budget and had hoped that the difference would come from the federal government. But at the Monday night workshop, Town Manager Joe Martin appeared to voice doubt that Verona would get as much from FEMA as planned.

Without the storm costs Verona’s 2012 budget would have been less than that for 2011, but the drop in ratables would still have had each of us paying more. With the storms, the draft budget, as it now stands, would add $185.60 to the average tax bill. (Yes, we are looking at the 2012 budget two months into the year it is supposed to be covering. The reason for that is another story altogether.)  The town budget is being unveiled in pieces through a series of workshops; the elements presented so far showed no large-scale cuts, although the police budget will be helped by the retirement of  a long-serving lieutenant in April.

School Programs Face Elimination

Large cuts were, however, on the agenda at Tuesday night’s BOE meeting. Superintendent Steven Forte announced that Verona is now considering $725,000 in cuts to current programs. The proposals range from removing the Gifted & Talented Program from the elementary schools, to ending foreign language for first and second graders, and cutting back on elementary school music. (There was no mention of cutting the curriculum supervisors, though doing so could save the district roughly $500,000. The three curriculum supervisor positions were created by former Superintendent Charles Sampson to enforce common standards across the district. But New Jersey has since become a signatory to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which sets clear guidelines for instruction in all grade levels and across all subjects.)

The state seems to recognize that Verona–which sends the state far more than it receives in state aid– is facing severe cuts and it offered a remedy: A remedy that would raise our taxes even further.

Trenton qualified Verona for an automatic waiver to the tax levy cap, which would let the BOE present a budget with a 3% increase. If  Verona accepts the waiver, we get an extra $248,000. If the BOE decides the increase in taxes would be unpalatable–particularly since this would be the first year that there would not have to be a public vote on the school budget, Verona would forfeit the extra funds forever. Verona last qualified for a waiver in the 2009-2010s budget, but the took only $196,000 of the of $354,000 offered.

[polldaddy poll=5952221]

There are some small bright spots in all this mess. Unlike Montclair, we are not going into debt to repay property tax challenges and refunds. And the drop in our ratables may mean that we will send less money this year to Essex County, which now takes about 25% of our tax dollar.

The property tax trouble isn’t only in Verona. In late January, NJ Spotlight, a news site that covers politics and education, reported that property taxes have risen 20% statewide under Gov. Chris Christie largely because of sharp cuts to direct property tax relief. And New Jersey is in far worse shape than just about any other state in the country. While the national average for what the average household spends on property taxes is less than 3%, in New Jersey, the percentage is 11.49%.


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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]


  1. Virgina,

    Thanks very much for this incisive, albeit disturbing, account–particularly regarding the education budget. If I recall correctly from the Board of Ed meeting of two weeks earlier, a sum of $150,000 per year was mentioned as the amount needed to implement an all-day kindergarten in town. It seems that, if we were to eliminate one curriculum supervisor’s position, we’d be good to go on all-day K.

  2. At the end of the day it’s got to be about more than just getting us through any one year. And more than just crisis management.

    Verona has the largest kindergarten class in quite some time entering the public school system in the fall. How about a projection of what it’s going to cost to get these kids all the way to graduation in 2026? Classroom resources, facilities, teachers, yes even administrators. Maybe in the big picture expanding to another full day class makes sense because it fits with the larger graduation goal. Maybe not. Maybe in the big, big picture it makes sense to bite the bullet and bond at a rate that may never be this low again for the facilities improvements that are needed then–and right now.

    Beyond the spending, we as a community need to take a long, hard look at how much money we are sending to Trenton, and how little we are getting back. Not only for our school system, but in terms of the broader societal benefits that we as a state are supposed to be getting from the spending that Trenton is doing with our money. Let’s face it, if Trenton were a teenager, we would have cut off his allowance long ago.

  3. Citizens should be reminded that the $185. proposed municipal tax increase for the average home is based upon a budget proposal. No final decisions have been made and the town is only at the beginning of the budget process.

  4. Absolutely. The next Board of Education meeting is Tuesday, February 28, and since education spending accounts for about 50% of our tax dollar in Verona, it is a key opportunity for parents to hear how their dollars will be spent–and saved.

    As for the municipal budget, there are workshop on Mondays February 27 and March 12. The town budget will be formally introduced on March 19.

  5. I am a public employee, I will see my first raise of 2% in 6 years. How about curbing salaries and suspending raises. If you don’t like find another job, someone will replace them in need of a job.

  6. Thanks for your information regarding the BOE -specifically the core state standards info. Also , thought the poll was a great idea.
    I am concerned that the no vote being required on the school budget will allow the Board of Ed to have too much freedom to come to some
    major decisions without really being held accountable. Then what?
    If they have their way what can we as the public do? It seems to me
    that not enough people are aware of what cuts are being considered.
    Anything you can do as a reporter to get this whole issue out there
    on a larger scale?

  7. It’s the dilemma of democracy. We have the right to elect people to represent our interests and make decisions on our behalf, but we all know that turnout at BOE elections has been dismal for years. So has public participation in board meetings. MyVeronaNJ.com can report on meetings, but it is not our role to be advocates.

    So it comes down to this: If you want to make your voice heard, you have to make your voice heard. You have to come to the next BOE meeting on 2/28 and tell the board what you want them to do with your tax dollars.

  8. Virginia,

    A few comments I would make re: the article and the poll.

    The article talks to the tax levy effect of our BOE budget. I think its important to keep in perspective the actions taken to-date in order to manage our expenses while funding for the priorities on our five year strategic plan/commitment to our community. We are in year 4 of the plan and surely have not fully funded it, given the CAP, overall economy and endless mandates from Trenton. The latest of these, which was not reporting in your article nor any of the other Verona papers, is the approx $50k cost to Verona to comply with a new teacher appraisal process. Given all we are doing, it is unnerving to have to divert our funds for something like this, at this time.

    The items you list above are a very small and pre-conceived sample of items to cut. In fact, the list we are working with consists of at least 20 different cuts vs the 4 you listed. In addition, we are not considering cutting music or foreign language out. Rather, for those 2 items, we are considering the merits of changing what we do in the 1st and 2nd grades so that we can save some money and direct more instructional time to core subjects (i.e.: math and/or LA, for example). Still, the proposed changes for the first 3 of your poll items (in the context we are considering them) would save approx $180k – while our target is $273k.

    Lastly, I note the sentiment of some who lobby for cutting our administrators, and in some cases, our curriculum admin team. We have approx 180 teaching staff in Verona, K-12. It is very apparent to me that the one thing we can do to improve our academic performance is to have these admins carry out their responsibilities. Your article implies that Mr. Sampson originated these positions before the state provided standards. That is incorrect. The BOE worked for years, prior to Mr. Sampson’s hiring, to shape the budget such that we could hire these functions. In fact, we hired the Director in Mr. Kim’s final year, but that person rescinded before his start date when Mr. Kim resigned.

    The fact that the state has released new standards (CCS) makes these positions even more important. We must change our curriculum (its definition), ensure it is executed
    (taught) consistently/properly across those 180 teachers, measure it properly (to identify what others things we need to change) and ensure standards that are sensible (such as grading standards, report card standards, and staff evaluations, to name a few). These leaders are charged with exactly those things. The old way in Verona resulted in building level responsibilities that, at best, resulted in shortcomings in consistency, standards, evaluation, and others.

    An interesting point, is that at the last BOE meeting, which this article and the other papers commented about the budget – we also adopted new curriculum (some of the output described above) for 10 different content areas, across grades. These include Math, Science and English in grades 1,2, 3, 4, 7, 8 and Algegra II at VHS. Somehow, none – none – of our local press, carried that information for the public.

    I believe the responsibilities of our press are to accurately report the news. As you stated above, you believe your role should not be to advocate. However, raising the question about cutting our curriculum administrators isn’t news – the BOE has never raised that, yet you do – by definition, I believe that’s advocating. When you – like the other news outlets in Verona – omit the most important element of our BOE work (efforts to improve academic performance) it raises the question of why its omitted.

    If anyone would like to discuss the efforts of the Board, I can be reached at [email protected]

  9. It doesn’t really matter during whose era the curriculum positions were
    created. John Q admittedly states it was the BOE that worked for years to put these positions in place. The NJ school districts financial
    constraints, (including the Verona School Districts) have escalated since that time through State mandates ,lack of grant monies, and more.
    Just because the BOE has not raised the question of cutting curriculum
    administrators (per John Q ) does not mean that the BOE should not consider that an option. After all, the BOE is an elected Board chosen to represent the taxpayers of Verona – both to protect taxpayers financial interests and to improve academic performance. In today’s desperate economic condition,taxpayers may feel that both elements should be reflected equally in the work the BOE does – not just one or the other. The most important work that the BOE can do for the taxpayers and the students of Verona at the present time, is to strive for a happy medium-by listening to the taxpayers carefully and to not over strive for control through their elected positions. No Budget public vote anymore, no budget workshop committee anymore- what’s next?

  10. Ladies and gentlemen, to make your voices heard you must do two things — first, come to meetings with comments and questions that can be directed at sitting BOE members (keeping in mind that the questions you ask are likely on the minds of many others in the larger audience), and second, VOTE IN THE ELECTIONS. Voter turnout is dismal, and yet there are always complaints about the competence and ability of the BOE members. Until voter turnout is 50%+ — for both the BOE and the Town Council — what do you expect to change? I’ll tell you one thing: unlike the Town Council, a seat on the BOE is a tough and unglamorous position subject to constant criticism and nobody wants it for power or glory, so those that run must really have an internal desire to improve the system. (Argue if you wish, but ask yourself if YOU would ever want to run for a BOE position… I ran for Town Council in 2009, but I would not want to sit on the BOE.) So if you care about who sits on the BOE and who agrees with most of the things you personally feel, then VOTE.


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