Letters to the Editor, March 5
Council’s ‘no tax raise’ claims misleading
While our current council continues to publicize its laudable record of low municipal tax increases, we should all remember that their track record is actually not as good as it seems on the surface because there has been a fundamental change in tax policy during this council’s tenure.
This is the first council to have extensively used PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) as the way of generating municipal revenue for all new major redevelopment projects. It is a nifty tool as it allows virtually all — 95 percent — of the revenue from these new projects, including the MC Hotel, Seymour Street, Valley and Bloom, etc., to go to the municipality. Precious little — just 5 percent — goes to the county, and none goes to the schools. This last point is where the major issue comes in.
The council gets to say “look, no tax increase!” But our overall tax burden still goes up every year because the county and (more so) the schools must keep raising their tax rates because they get next to no financial benefit from all of the new development. However, with the massive influx of new residents, more county services must be provided and roads that are increasingly congested must be maintained more frequently. And more students living here will attend schools, teachers and school faculty still need to receive increases in their compensation, and so on.
So what happens? These two portions of the tax levy (county and schools) continue to balloon. Oh, and let us not forget that during this council’s tenure we also got a new 1 percent levy for the library that did not exist before. If one were to take all of these things into account and judge the taxation performance of the current council it will fall more in-line with historical norms. And, at the end of the day what matters most to us as citizens is the amount of our overall property tax bill — not to which specific source (municipal, county, school or library) we are paying those taxes.
Finally, lest I sound like I am complaining about taxes — not at all. I believe in both government’s responsibility to assist with the equitable redistribution of wealth and paying one’s fair share in taxes for government services. I just don’t like it when only part of the story is being told — especially in an election year.
The author is former chair of the township Planning Board.
County decisions not the will of the people
The Essex County Freeholders support the expansion at the Turtle Back Zoo, which plans for the clear-cutting of many acres of conserved land and animals parading around a stage like a circus, using Gov. Murphy’s state funds which were supposed to be directed towards conservation. Not surprisingly, Joe DiVincenzo’s team also supports people being illegally and unethically detained in cages at the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement jails.
The conclusion we must draw is that they support both animals and people in cages. A supposedly progressive Board of Freeholders repeatedly follows the agenda of local politicians who are not accountable to the people who voted for them. Many residents and students have recently protested the zoo expansion, while calls to end the local ICE contracts have been ongoing for many years.
The will of the people is clearly not being accounted for in these two important issues. One definition of a dictatorship is: “A dictatorship is a government or a social situation where one person makes all the rules and decisions without input from anyone else.”
While some would argue we are already there on a national level, I wonder if Essex County is heading in the same direction.
Plans announced for historic Shultz house
As reported in Montclair Local in June 2019, the Montclair History Center announced that we were at a crossroads regarding one of our properties, the Charles Shultz House (a.k.a. Evergreens) at 30 North Mountain Avenue. Bequeathed to us in 1996 by Molly Shultz, the house is now owned by the Montclair History Center with no restrictions on our use or disposition of it. Despite our deep love and respect for the house and efforts to maintain it as a historic house museum, the substantial and escalating maintenance costs (consuming up to 40 percent of our annual operating budget in recent years) have made MHC’s continued ownership financially unsustainable. This is our update to the community on our quest to find another path forward for the property.
After inviting the public to a series of Community Conversations in June, we followed up on the many suggestions that arose. We’ve considered programming and fundraising ideas and have spoken to regional and national preservation organizations; non-profit organizations; real estate and design professionals; local, county, and state officials; universities; Molly’s relatives; and the National Park Service and the Smithsonian. We have worked hard to find a solution that allows us to maintain a museum space on the property, but our hopes for that scenario have dimmed.
MHC has not yet made any decisions on the house’s future. We are actively exploring ideas that respect the history of the house and the community and have rejected several outright that did not meet this goal. We remain open to introductions and suggestions, including from real estate professionals who have approached us with creative adaptive re-use concepts for the house. And now, we have also listed the house for sale as a single-family home. While it may not be the right fit for every family, it may be perfect for some family, as it had been for the Shultz family for 100 years.
We are heartened by the support we continue to receive from the community and the love of the house you share with us. Bolstering the home’s preservation with a deed restriction that protects it from demolition, telling the Shultz family’s story, and respecting our community remain priorities for our organization. We will continue to keep you updated.
ELIZABETH D. HYNES and HELEN L. FALLON
The authors are the president and vice president, respectively, of the Montclair History Center Board of Trustees.