Summit Common Council
David Dietze (R) + Beth Little (D)
New Jersey has the highest property tax burden in the nation and Summit is among the highest taxed municipalities in the state. If elected, where would reducing property taxes rank among your policy priorities?
DIETZE: Taxes is one of the three major initiatives for my campaign, the other two being education and strengthening the downtown.
LITTLE: Keeping Summit affordable will be one of my top priorities on Council. An economically and demographically diverse population is one of Summit’s key assets. I am committed to making sure senior citizens, young working people, families and empty nesters all have a place in our community. I will approach our high residential taxes as follows:
* Commit to fiscal responsibility in the spending of our tax dollars. On issues of spending, I promise to do the research, ask the hard questions and evaluate all decisions on two principles: Is it necessary? Does it provide a common good to Summit residents?
* Strengthen our existing commercial tax base. Actively supporting downtown businesses is a win-win. A vibrant downtown makes Summit a great place to live and successful, thriving businesses bring in more tax revenue.
* Support thoughtful redevelopment in the Broad Street corridor. Well-planned and thoughtful development in this area could bring additional tax revenues to Summit’s coffers and take the pressure off residential taxes.
* Continue to foster a working relationship with Union County. The way to move forward is to work collaboratively with the county to ensure that Summit county taxes come back to benefit Summit residents.
Are there changes in local tax policy (e.g. decreases, incentives, etc.) you believe can help revitalize and grow the Downtown?
DIETZE: The lower the taxes on the downtown, the better. Low taxes allow landlords to offer lower rents, thus making vacancies less likely, reducing tenant turnover, and making our downtown more likely to have a diverse set of retailers and shops. Low taxes allow for more resources to be used in renovating properties. While I endorse the idea of lowering taxes to potentially create a more prosperous downtown environment, I would vehemently oppose the use of higher taxes as a stick to compel landlords to operate in a certain manner. Some have argued for the elimination of lawfully permitted tax abatements if a property declines in value due to vacancies. In short, they advocate for a “rent up fast or get taxed” approach. First, there are real questions as to the legality of such an approach, and it could tie up the town in expensive litigation. More importantly, that approach could have the unintended effect of creating disincentives to leave a property vacant to renovate it or to find the best tenant possible. Vacancies are a part of the market system, just like homes in residential neighborhoods are unoccupied while on the market, and a period of vacancy does not warrant tax punishment.
LITTLE: Supporting our downtown businesses and attracting new successful businesses are important components in broadening our commercial tax base. A stronger commercial tax base is the best way to reduce our residential tax burden. Therefore, I would be in favor of tax incentives that help to attract new businesses to our community.
Nationally, only New York, Alaska and D.C. spend more per student on K-12 education than New Jersey. In Summit last year, our school district spent $19,782 per student (the state average was $20,385). Going forward, should we spend more, less or roughly the same on K-12 education?
DIETZE: As a strong education booster, I champion making investments in our schools whenever data points to a strong return on investment, namely student achievement, relative to the amount of the investment. Similarly, I advocate scrutinizing all investments continuously, and eliminating spending where there’s insufficient progress made toward our goals. I would not target a fixed amount of investment. In that connection, Summit must fight for its fair share of state aid for its schools. The current allocation, based on perceived need, is very outdated, leaving Summit with a paltry sum relative to other districts, like Hoboken. Now, with Teslas cruising Hoboken streets given new found NYC wealth, there’s no fairness in Hoboken last year receiving over 10 times more per student than Summit. Our Council must fight for Summit’s share.
LITTLE: Strong schools support higher property vales and benefit residents. As a council member, I would not support significantly decreasing our school budgets. However, state funding for our schools has decreased under Chris Christie. If state school funding increased, we might be able to decrease the portion of our school budget funded by municipal tax dollars.
Summit shoulders more of the county tax burden (per household) than any other municipality in Union County. As a reference point, despite having comparable population sizes, Union County levies over $100 million more in taxes than Morris County does. Do you believe Summit gets its fair share of services from the county? Would you support efforts to reduce county taxes and spending?
DIETZE: No [on the first question]. Absolutely [on the second question]. There are many inequities in how Summit is treated by Union County. First, we are effectively left with no representation on Union County’s governing board, the Freeholders. All members are from the same political party (D) and from the eastern part of the county. So, it’s taxation without representation. I propose we fight for electing Freeholders by district, not at large, so several cities on the western side of the County would at least have one voice at the table. Second, we must look at the formula used to assess liability for their budget. It currently relies solely on property values. We need to assess responsibility based on factors that are less speculative and fairer. Third, we must continue to press the County to curtail its spending, and stop spending on items that are inappropriate to be financed by county government, like lavish golf clubs. Finally, we must continue to fight to receive value back from Union County. Forty million dollars approximately are paid over to the County from our taxes annually, but by recent tally we are receiving just 11 cents on the dollar back.
LITTLE: I absolutely support a reduction of the portion of taxes sent to the county. In recent years, Summit’s Mayor Nora Radest has also worked tirelessly to make sure that Summit receives county funding for important projects right here in Summit. These projects include funding for the senior lounge at the new community center, funding for the Tatlock tennis courts and funding for new turf at Glenside fields. I would support continued pursuit of county grants that directly benefit Summit residents.
For additional information about my position on the issues, please check out my website at www.votebethlittle.org.