If you attended Councilman Peter Yacobellis’s town hall on the municipal budget in late January, one thing should have stood out to you: Montclair’s revenue base is disproportionality generated from households, to the tune of 90% of our taxes. Many peer Essex County municipalities only generate 80-85% of their revenues from households.

For Montclair residents who consistently question its sky-high taxes, here is your answer: We don’t have the types of businesses in town that can share in our tax burden. This gap represents $10 to $20 million of the proposed 2022 municipal and school budgets, meaning the average annual residential taxpayer’s bill is $850 to $1,700 higher due to the commercial tax gap.

This is why I was angered by the March 23 article on MontclairLocal.news, “What we know about Lackawanna plans so far,” which demonstrated the township’s prioritization of spending tax dollars over finding new tax revenue streams. Affordable housing, bicycle parking, greenspace and historic preservation are all important to consider so long as we are also discussing investments in commercial real estate that will diversify our tax base.

Let me be clear: I am pro-small business, pro-affordable housing and pro-carbon reduction. Our emphasis on small businesses, economic diversity and access to green transit are key tenents that make us such a desirable place to call home. We have a duty to protect and incent small businesses formation in town, maintain a balanced housing stock and continuously reduce our environmental impact. But we cannot afford these by ourselves and must create physical space for deeper-pocketed, larger businesses that want to invest in those tenents with us. Lackawanna Plaza is one of the rare places in town where we have the opportunity to make this change.

In addition to helping us redistribute our tax base away from residents, investing in commercial real estate at Lackawanna Plaza will create new economic opportunities for Montclair’s small businesses. Office employees from out of town will dine out, shop and host after work events, particularly in Montclair Center. 

At the January town hall, Yacobellis said there are “multiple” global companies that have expressed interest in opening offices in Montclair. But this is missing from the current conversation. Let’s be sure commercial real estate development and the diversification of our municipal tax base is a top priority for Lackawanna Plaza. Any other objective will continue to burden Montclair’s residents.

Andrew Klein

Editor’s note: The article referenced by this letter’s writer described a developer’s vision for Lackawanna Plaza, and conceptual plans have been seen by some township officials, but no plans have yet come before a township body for consideration.

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