Money Houses 2

The average property tax bill in Middlesex County reached $7,917 in 2017, according to an annual report the state released on Feb. 23, which is a $42 increase over 2016.

While Middlesex County’s increase was well below the state $140 average, Essex County took the top spot. Taxes there increased more than $350.

Locally, property tax bills in Monroe and Jamesburg had increases, according to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs report, while Cranbury had a decrease.

The report found that the average 2017 property tax bill in Monroe was $8,990, up $314; Jamesburg increased to $7,526, a $57 hike and Cranbury was $11,664, a $16 decrease.

Since former Gov. Chris Christie took office, property taxes have increased 19 percent, a little more than 2 percent per year. The Christie caps have slowed property tax increases compared to previous New Jersey governors.

However, already one of the highest taxed states in the nation, property tax bills could rise even faster in the coming years because a key part to the Christie caps expired.

The controversial interest arbitration cap, that limits police and firefighter salary arbitration awards to 2 percent, expired at the end of 2017.

While there is support form some state and local leaders to continue the arbitration cap, it remains unclear what lawmakers will decide.

“It kind of helps to keep the [local] budgets in line,” said Wayne DeAngelo, D-14, which includes Middlesex County. “We have got to make sure the new governor [Phil Murphy] is going to sign that.” DeAngelo said he has met with several mayors in his district who support continuing the cap.

According to an NJ.com/Star-Ledger report, the interest arbitration cap saved taxpayers $530 million.

However, the state PBA, a vocal opponent to the cap, maintains that salary raises for police and firefighters were already trending down and saw no need for stipulating how much an arbitrator could award. Opponents also contended that by having the cap, the local governments did not have to negotiate in good faith knowing that at best the unions would only receive a maximum of 2 percent.

But the arbitration cap is just one part of the property tax-control efforts. Municipal and school budgets are also restricted to a 2 percent cap.

“Our 2017 budget was well below the 2-percent property tax levy cap,” said Monroe Business Administrator Alan Weinberg. “The tax levy cap, employee healthcare cost-sharing and good financial management are critical tools which have helped Monroe achieve its AA+ Standard and Poor’s rating.”

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Correspondent

Christopher Lang is a freelance correspondent for MonroeNow. Previously he was part of The Record-USA Today Network and served as an editor for a decade at NJMG.