By Douglas D. Melegari Staff Writer
MEDFORD—Republican 8th Legislative District Assemblyman Ryan Peters is calling on all municipalities in his region to band together by passing a “No Rain Tax Resolution.”
One Pinelands municipality has already said it will take the pledge.
“I’ll be reaching out to every mayor, deputy mayor and council member I can to implore them not to crush our residents with another new tax,” said Peters in a statement to this newspaper. “If I can get enough towns to band together, hopefully more will follow and residents and businesses won’t ever have to see a rain tax added to their monthly bills.”
In March, Democratic Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation allowing municipalities and counties to establish stormwater utilities. Under the new law, if either choose to do so, they will be allowed to apply an undetermined tax on property and business owners based on the amount of impervious surface they have. The permissible tax has been dubbed the “rain tax” because it involves rainwater runoff.
“When you lay your head on your pillow to go to sleep at night in New Jersey, you never know what new tax you are going to wake up to,” Peters said. “No matter how hard we fight in Trenton, one-party rule in the state makes it difficult to stop these types of fiscally harmful policies, so I am taking the fight locally.”
Although the revenue is meant to be mainly used for managing the flow of stormwater, the law states that 5 percent, or $50,000 of the revenue, is required to be paid to the state and another 5 percent can be used for a locality’s general fund.
“When Democrats introduced this, they justified it by saying towns need a funding source to treat stormwater runoff,” Peters said. “I am sorry, but are the state’s highest property taxes in the nation not enough of a funding source?”
New Jersey has the highest average property taxes in the nation at $8,767, according to Peters. The state was also named as having the worst business tax climate in the nation by the non-profit Tax Foundation.
“This won’t only create another tax separate from what property taxpayers and business owners pay, but it will also create another level of bureaucracy and salaries that any new revenue will go towards funding,” Peters said. “Towns have public works and other departments that budget property taxes to handle this.”
The assemblyman told this newspaper that several local mayors and other elected officials have already responded to his calls and plan to bring up the resolution at a future town meeting. They include representatives from Medford Township, Hammonton, Shamong Township and Woodland Township.
“This is an unneeded tax in our town that would also add an expensive layer of oversight,” said Medford Mayor Charles “Chuck” Watson. “Medford has systems in place to treat stormwater. We plan to pass this at our (upcoming) meeting.”
At an April 2 Medford Council meeting, Watson asserted that “we don’t need to pay a bureaucracy in town” and “we don’t need to pay somebody to run it.”
Medford Deputy Mayor Frank Czekay said the purpose of the legislation is for towns that “don’t have separate systems” like Medford has.
“We are perfectly fine in terms of the funding we have,” Czekay said. “There is no reason for us to institute any kind of stormwater utility to manage the stormwater. It is managed. It is fine. It is able to be absorbed through our general operating budget, which is where it should be.”
Shamong Mayor Michael Di Croce said Shamong also already has systems in place to treat stormwater that are funded through property taxes.
“We have no intentions on creating a new level of bureaucracy and hitting our residents with a new tax,” Di Croce said. “The township plans on passing Assemblyman Peters’ resolution and stands beside him in his fight to provide relief to our taxpayers.”
However, Evesham Township, which is part of Peters’ district, recently was the site of a free forum, sponsored by the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters (NJ LCV), which provides a statewide political voice for the environment, in conjunction with the Pinelands Preservation Alliance as part of an ongoing plan to educate the public about the human cost of stormwater to people’s health.
As this newspaper previously reported, Evesham Township Mayor Jaclyn Veasy, who attended the forum, told attendees that she had directed Evesham Township Manager Michael Barth to reach out to the school district and the fire department in her municipality to come up with ways their facilities can be retrofitted for better stormwater management.
She added that the municipality was in the process of building a rain garden at a township preschool to help with stormwater management. She noted that the township was also building a miniature golf course at Indian Springs that has been completely redesigned to provide fully functioning stormwater management.
“With what we are already doing in Evesham, it is really not on our radar right now to implement any type of tax,” she said when interviewed by this newspaper after the forum. “We want people to holistically add stormwater management, to do it from the ground up and to encourage them to use all the programs that we are implementing now. For our commercial businesses, the law encourages them to set up new landscaping or they would end up having to pay some kind of utility fee for stormwater. They are not required to do so now, although we do encourage it with all the new regulations for any new developments coming.”
NJ LCV Executive Director Ed Potosnak told forum attendees that stormwater “is the stuff that happens when we have rain events and water doesn’t have a chance to go through the ground as a natural filter,” and that it “enters waterways and doesn’t have a chance to get treated.” He claimed managing runoff was important because of the effects it can have on drinking water, beaches, rivers and swimming.
“We see it in flooding on our roadways and our basements,” he said. Reporter Mark Hatoff contributed to this story.