Editor Al Campbell -- Use This One

Editor Al Campbell.

This Spout Off appeared May 14 online:

Court House - Does anyone else feel property taxes are too high? I understand taxes must be paid to provide for police, EMTs, schools and teachers, trash collection and other basic services. I believe in paying taxes, but why all the extra fees? Is this double taxation without representation? Why does the county continue to lose population and good jobs are not available? It appears we have redundant government functions in very small towns. Is it time to reduce the size of government and scope of government intrusion? Can we consolidate government agencies and reduce taxes?

In a manner of speaking, I feel like Francis Pharcellus Church, the famed editor of the New York Sun who penned the famed, "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa..." in September 1897 by responding to the inquisitive spouter.

Yes, dear spouter, property taxes are too high, and there are several reasons we can point to as the reason.

Chiefly, the public expects a great deal from its governments in all sectors. We have come to expect a level of service and have not greatly opposed those services, or called for their cessation.

If we were content to have State Police protection, there would not be a large chunk of our municipal tax budget going to fund police officers and their department. Since the writer is reportedly from Court House, I'll assume he or she is from Middle Township.

The municipality is a crossroads, has multiple county facilities, schools and businesses which call for police services around the clock. Would we be content with State Police protection as are our peers in Woodbine, Upper and Dennis townships?

In my youthful days in Court House, it was common for residents to have 55-gallon barrels in which they burned trash.

Garbage was collected by a private contractor and paid by individuals who used the service. Would we be willing to retreat to that level of trash elimination? Obviously, clean air advocates would complain. Still, it seemed that the ashes from the trash were recycled into many vegetable gardens.

When the fire siren sounded, it generally meant a structure was ablaze, and the volunteer firefighters responded as quickly as they could. Now, those volunteers are called upon hundreds of times a year for alarms, crash cleanups, and a myriad of other details that those firefighters of old could not imagine.

Add to that burden the mandates of state and federal agencies on volunteer fire departments to replace equipment even if it has not been greatly used, but still must be discarded and upgraded. The meter runs even when we taxpayers sleep.

Similarly, rescue squad members must go through rigorous training that would scare off those who merely were willing to drive an ambulance or render first aid. The bills those volunteer and municipal squads encounter is mind-boggling.

Is there double taxation without representation? Call it what you will, but each time the state hands off a service to the county or municipal government, that's another bill we have to pay. Should a dog license be free to residents? Should a building permit be without cost? Could a yard sale be held without a fee? 

Why does the county continue to lose population? Those who have voted with their feet do so chiefly for monetary reasons. Taxes are getting too oppressive. Those who are wealthy can conserve more by leaving the county and state. Those who have done so tell us what their new tax bills are in those other places, chiefly in the south. We wince as we hear the numbers and shake our heads as we look at our tax bills.

Is it time to reduce the size of government? It's easy to answer yes, but more difficult to say no.

For example, many towns have business administrators. Before them, the elected officials largely performed those tasks on a part-time basis. Could a municipal government operate in today's environment with part-time supervisors?

Forty or 50 years ago, there were fewer unions representing local government workers, teachers and police officers. Officials who are elected must bargain with those unions whose members are not willing to take less in the next contract than they did in the present one. What's the answer?

Consolidation? It sounds good, but putting it into practice meets with resistance, chiefly because of jobs and who controls them. More consolidation could reduce taxes, but it would mean the loss of some high five- or six-figure salaried supervisors, and then there are the lower-echelon workers, where would they go?

Since government, in one form or another, is one of Cape May County's largest employers what makes good sense for the geese (the taxpayers) doesn't necessarily make equal sense for the ganders (the government workers).

My advice to the spouter: Organize your neighbors into a group. Visit your municipal governing body's meetings. Don't be combative, state your concerns and listen for answers.

If those answers do not please your group, consider who may want to run as a candidate and work to get that person elected. Work from within the system. Be ready to meet many barriers and roadblocks.

If the electorate demands change, and is unflinching in its move, there is a good possibility that change will occur, but it won't be easy or fast. Salaries and services that are well established are not easily removed.