We hear lots of stories about how the state budget is being crafted at this time of year, how lawmakers are traveling around holding public hearings in different towns to get input from members of the public. But most of the time it seems local residents pay no attention at all to their municipal budgets.

“We see minimal turnout and questions concerning our budget. It’s the 80-2 rule: you’ve got a very small portion of people that get engaged with their local government,” said Gary Passanante, the mayor of Somerdale and director of the New Jersey Conference of Mayors Business Council.

“Typically what will happen is questions come up in general when the tax bills arrive, and that’s far too late at that point to be raising questions. There’s not a lot of engagement when it comes to the development of the budget and the process we take.”

The budget process in New Jersey municipalities is usually open and transparent, where multiple meetings are held and the public invited to participate, presentations are made. But typically there’s not a very big turnout.

“There’s very few people that will come out and get engaged in finding out how we’re spending their money and what we’re doing with it,” he said.

Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty agrees.

“People are focused in on their local property taxes but when it comes to how a budget is put together and all of the associated costs, unfortunately, a lot of people don’t pay attention as well as they should," he said.

“People have other things going on in their lives, they’re worried about getting their kids to school, getting to work on time.”

“People are so busy with their private lives and just trying to make meet that they just don’t engage with the day-to-day stuff that’s going on in their municipality,” said Passanante.

“Unless something happens that draws their attention to something specific, we usually don’t seem them."

In Somerdale, he takes this as a sign that people are generally happy with what’s going on, how funds are being spent and the services being delivered.

“Typically, someone will show up at a municipal budget meeting because they have a specific problem that’s impacting them at that particular moment,” he said.

Doherty pointed out taxes in Belmar have actually dropped over the past seven years, so there’s not a push-back on that issue.

To see how much your town's property taxes changed from last year, read our special report.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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