Property taxes are consistently at or near the top of the list of concerns for residents, but there was not much discussion by state lawmakers about tackling the issue in 2015.

(Creatas, ThinkStock)

New Jersey homeowners are still paying the highest-in-the-nation property taxes according to the Tax Foundation. In early 2015, the NJ Department of Community Affairs revealed that that the average residential property tax bill was $8,161 in 2014 which was up 2.2 percent from the previous year.

“Property taxes are done at the local level. It’s the local level and it’s the refusal of doing shared services and being more efficient with things,” said State Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-Thorofare) at a recent State House press conference. “We want to focus on property taxes and I’ve had a shared services bill that’s been bottled up in the Assembly for two years now, actually four years.”

For years, Sweeney has sponsored legislation to encourage shared services. The latest version (S-1) would have a commission determine which towns would save taxpayers money if they shared services. If municipalities don’t implement the commission’s recommendations they would risk losing state aid equal to the amount of money that would have been saved.

The decision to share services should be left to local governments and not dictated by the state with the penalty of losing financial assistance said Mike Darcy, executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.

“The League is also a proponent of shared services and regionalization and even consolidation, but we don’t believe that those are the solutions to the property tax problems that the state faces. We believe they’re an ingredient, but not a single-source solution,” said Darcy.

One problem is the state has redirected municipal revenues to balance the State Budget rather help local governments including energy tax receipts that used to be returned to towns, Darcy explained.

“It’s true the state has problems with having enough revenues to deal with all the problems that it faces, but I don’t think that anybody would say that just consolidating or sharing services is the solution to the property tax issue in New Jersey,” Darcy said.

New Jersey has too much government and not enough local elected officials are helping to trim the fat, Sweeney said.

“So, a lot of this has to do with locals too. They just can’t point to the Legislature and say, ‘It’s your fault.’ It’s a problem for everyone,” he said.

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