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Monday, February 27, 2012

Residents of Jackson, NJ, Hate High Taxes But Apparently Not As Much As They Hate Progress

A Tale of Suburban Stagnation

I'm going to take a break from world and national affairs today because you people are apparently not listening to me anyway. How do I know that? If you were listening things would be a lot better out there.

Instead I'm going to talk about my property taxes. I live in a 101 square mile township in New Jersey that up until twenty years ago was filled mostly with pine trees, deer stands and toxic waste dumps. People lived here, but not many.


Population
  • 1960 - 5,939
  • 1970 - 18,276 (207% increase)
  • 1980 - 25,644 (40.3% increase)
  • 1990 - 33,233 (29.6% increase)
  • 2000 - 42,816 (28.8% increase)
  • 2010 - 54,856 (28.1% increase)
There are two supermarkets, four Chinese takeout joints, two Burger Kings, two McDonald's and probably 1,400 pizza "restaurants" in town.* The culture of our town consists of two CVS pharmacies, three Wawa convenience stores and a Quik Chek.

I moved there because the town I was living in turned into a nightmare of traffic lights, drug busts and decaying roads. So pretty much, I'm just like everyone else who moved to my town in the past twenty years. The only apparent difference between me and them is that I can see a cure for oppressive taxation and I bring our dogs in as soon as they start barking.


Once Upon A Time Jackson's Leaders Were Starving For Development

In an act that makes pimply-faced high school geeks look suave and sophisticated as they get up the nerve to ask moderately attractive girls to the prom, when Warner LeRoy, a famous New Jersey rich person came to Jackson in the late 1960 to build a theme park, he was given a complete and total moratorium on property taxes in perpetuity by our forward-thinking and overly needy town fathers.

The Six Flags corporation still laughs at us.


My Property Taxes Are Way Higher Than Yours and I Pay For My Own Garbage Collection

I'm not going to tell you how much I pay a year in property taxes because its none of your business, but I will tell you that if you guessed "around $10,000" you wouldn't be wrong. For my money, I get some okay schools, angry cops who tell me that because of manpower cuts they can't respond to anything but the most grievous of civil disturbances, a Public Works department that runs its snow plows over my lawn a few days after the snow stops, no parks or recreation areas to speak of (that I can use without a permit), and I pay for my own garbage pickup. The township does collect my recyclables every other week, but they subcontract that work out to a private company, so I'm not sold on how much bang I get for the buck.


An Annoying Woman Drives Around My Neighborhood Complaining About A Cemetery

In December I was minding my own business, putting up our Christmas decorations and cursing under my breath about how annoying decorating for Christmas actually is, when some strange lady in a minivan started yelling at me from the street. Usually this would be a sure sign that a member of my first wife's family had found where I live, but that wasn't the case. This annoying woman was driving up and down the neighborhood trying to rouse the rabble into protesting against a cemetery that was being planned down the street from us.

This woman was against the development of unused land into a place with grass and trees and dead people. Why? Traffic.

This is the mindset of the town I live in.


Mitch Leigh Threatens to Destroy Jackson Township By Bringing Jobs and Tax Ratables

In the 1960's, Mitch Leigh wrote the book for Man of La Mancha and made a 1960s-sized fortune. Being wise with his money he purchased a bunch of acres of pine trees, deer stands and toxic waste dumps in the township as an investment. In 1989, he presented a plan for a subdivision that would include over 1,600 homes. That got shot down.

In 2004, Leigh got preliminary phased approval to build a 2.9 million square foot Town Center that would include a hotel, stores, a "European-style" downtown area with residential and commercial buildings, plus warehouse units. Approvals were given, but the townspeople complained bitterly about the tax relief, culture, shopping, and job opportunities the development would burden us with.

In fact, the good citizens of Jackson went nuts. Signs littered yards all over town imploring Mitch Leigh to leave Jackson undeveloped. The local newspaper took up the vigilante cause of its readers and township political leaders played to the masses instead of leading. I didn't actually see hordes of neighbors with pitchforks and torches heading for Leigh's real estate firm at midnight, but I'm sure they talked about it.

Traffic! the people exclaimed. Storm water runoff! the township engineers exclaimed. I moved to a clear-cut tract housing development in the middle of Jackson and spent thousands of dollars to plant my own trees because I loved the ruralness of Jackson! more people exclaimed.

Needless to say, the property is still undeveloped.

Meanwhile, my property taxes continued to rise. Since 2004 they have increased over $4,500.


Here's the link to the story in our local paper. I urge you to read the comments at the bottom so you can get a feel for what I'm up against: Mitch Leigh Pushing Forward Again on 2.9 Million Square Foot Campus In Jackson. Even the headline gives you an idea of the attitude of the big thinkers in my town, (although it's nice to know that there is at least one twenty year-old in town with common sense).


If You Are Against This Project You Give Up Your Right To Complain About Your Taxes

I am a strong proponent for the development of the Town Center project for the following reasons:
  • My property taxes are incredibly high 
  • People need jobs
  • It might be nice to spend some of my money in my town rather than having to drive to other towns to buy most of the things I buy
But I fear I will once again be in the minority. The development is being presented to the public as a burden on the school system and a traffic increaser. Neither of which are true:
  • Commercial development pays for schools without the burden of additional little brats
  • Traffic is already ridiculous because the roads were designed and built when 5,939 people lived in town and now 54,856 live here. Unfortunately almost all of them drive. The development will, by necessity, force roads in the area to be redesigned and redeveloped
But facts never get in the way of a good whinefest. Short-sighted people who don't understand how money works will shout loudly and emotionally about the development of property near their homes, even if their homes are clear on the other side of town. It's time the political leadership of Jackson made the case for growth. While it may be easier to burden the populace with taxes they can't afford, true growth and prosperity requires leaders who are able to see beyond the next election.

If we had put away our intellectual pitchforks and torches ten years ago, the development would have gone forward, and who knows, maybe the local economy would be tolerable now because of the commercial ratables the Jackson Town Center would have provided.

As a society we need to stop complaining about lack of growth while fearing real progress. We need to build something for ourselves and our children, and we need to start thinking about the good of the community instead of the inconvenience a few hearses a week pulling out of a cemetery, or a bunch of people spending money down the street from us, might cause.

Let Mr. Leigh do with his property as he sees fit, and help the Township of Jackson's stick its hands a little less deeper into my pockets.

It's time people with common-sense started mouthing off a little.


* - I took the population figures from Wikipedia, so the chances are they are dead wrong, but as far as I can tell from driving around town, the figures will work for demonstration purposes. The factual data about our local cuisine is from my memory as I type this, and the figure on the pizza joints may be + or - a thousand or so.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mitch Leighs ideas for JACKSON TOWNCENTER are too grandious and out of character for the town. Jackson would definitely benefit from a towncenter however, but maybe something LESS CITYLIKE, such as a SMITHVILLE or WOODBURY COMMONS. A small village type atmosphere that is upscale would suit Jackson perfectly. Places to shop, nice resturants, gathering square, areas for craft fairs and art exhibits.UPSCALE but SMALL and QUAINT TYPE VILLAGE FEEL.. THANKS..

Ahmnodt Heare said...

The one reservation I have is that if this passes, the town will see the increased revenues and spend the money on frivolous stuff. Just keep your guard up.

Anonymous said...

Love this editorial!

Anonymous said...

This editorial is spot on in my opinion. If you don't offer solutions for our tax problems, please do not complain when others do. It's such a shame that I leave town to do almost everything need to do - I would much prefer to spend my money locally...

Jeff McDonald said...

I don't know how much in the way of taxes this would bring in, I do know that "forcing" the town to redesign and rebuild the roads would cost many millions.

JOHN F said...

I think IT IS A GOOD IDEA TO HAVE HIM BUILD AND HAVE A TOWN CENTER AND RELIEVE THE TAXPAYERS FROM SOME OF THE BURDEN TO PAY FOR EVERTHING. YES WE ALL WOULD LIKE TO LIVE WITH TONS OF SPACE BETWEEN HOMES BUT GET REAL IF YOU HAD A LEGIT PIECE OF PROPERTY YOU WOULD NOT WANT PEOPLE TELLING YOU WHAT YOU COULD OR COULD NOT DO.THE RESIDENTS SHOULD HAVE DONE THEIR HOMEWORK AND SEEN THE THE PROPERTY WAS BUILDABLE AFTER ALL WE DONT LIVE ON THE MOON.