This is a letter from Jersey City Board of Education member Lorenzo Richardson to Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop which was sent to all nine city council members and the city clerk. Lorenzo is referring to Fulop’s statements defending the over-$2,000 increase in property taxes for Jersey City homeowners over the last year and blaming the increase on the School Board, explaining, “our plan was to try and give the Board of Education more time to fix their budget, but unfortunately, they chose not to do that.” Lorenzo notes that his letter is “made in my capacity as a private citizen and not in my capacity as a board member.” There has been a long-term feud between City Council and the School Board about the district budget, which will approach $1 billion next year (after having lost $234 million in state aid due to the long history of Jersey City residents not paying their “Local Fair Share”) and the municipal budget, which has increased by over $100 million in the last decade:
Dear Mayor Fulop,
I am writing this letter as a lifelong resident and taxpayer of Jersey City in response to the letter you sent to my family’s home with the tax bill after your city council voted on the 2022 budget about a month ago.
Let’s break down your letter in conjunction with my analysis, come to some factual conclusions and end by me posing some questions to you along with a request.
First, in your letter, you say you are “responsible for the municipal tax portion of the bill.” While that is true, you have passed the blame on to the school system, and you have been dishonest about your responsibility as mayor regarding who gets how much of the tax bill from the property owners. You have been blaming the JCBOE for tax increases when you could offset those tax increases with your numerous revenues from parking fees, city clerk fees for services, hotel taxes, city permits, apartment registration fees, lowering the municipal levy, tax abatement revenue, MUA revenue and any other non-restrictive revenue sources. You could have also left the city council salaries at $30,000 and their aides’ salaries at $15,000 since they are considered part-time jobs. Now council jobs are close to six figure salaries and the aides are not too far behind and you allow for several more aides to be hired for each council member as well. What about the office of innovation and residence response center? Could you have streamlined those departments? Did you look at city contracts and patronage jobs that could be trimmed or eliminated? No. You didn’t. You cut essential programs according to your own city council on record during the 2022 budget vote.
In your letter you said you “kept your promise to fix Jersey City’s financial trajectory and put a stop to decades of unhealthy reliance on tax increase after tax increase to balance budgets. Since the start of my tenure, we have changed course to achieve fiscal responsibility. Our aggressive efforts to improve financial management policies have led us to achieve zero tax increases for seven of the nine last years, alongside consistent credit rating upgrades.”
While I cannot speak to how you achieved your credit upgrades, everything else regarding zero tax increases is completely false and to prove it I have attached a report I created going back the last 20 years and highlighted the year 2013 when you came in as Mayor. My analysis generated from public records show that from 2002 to 2022 (20 years), the city collected $1.5 Billion dollars more than the school district! During your tenure as mayor, more than half of that $1.5 billion in excess of the schools was collected. It was $828,899,716.42 to be exact which is the difference between the $1,556,030,208 the schools received and $2,384,929,924.42 the municipality received. On average, you were collecting over $100 million dollars more than the schools every year until 2021. You did not raise taxes in 2013 and 2014 because you had an 8% tax hike cushion from the outgoing Healy administration to ride for 2013 and 2014. You still had the power to lower taxes in 2013 when you came in, and in 2014, but you didn’t. Yet in 2015, you raised taxes $2,371,219 on the property owners and every year after that as shown in my report until 2021 when you ran for re-election. How convenient. Here is how the city levy money was collected from property owners as opposed to your voodoo math:
In 2013 you rode off part of the 2013 8% tax hike and did not lower taxes when you could have
In 2014 you rode off part of the 2013 8% tax hike and did not lower taxes when you could have
In 2015 you increased municipal taxes $2,371,219 from $217,414,170 to $219,785,389
In 2016 you increased municipal taxes $3,490,639 from $219,785,389 to $223,276,028
In 2017 you increased municipal taxes $5,022,232 from $223,276,028 to $228,298,260
In 2018 you increased municipal taxes $8,448,486 from $228,298,260 to $236,746,746
In 2019 you increased municipal taxes $11,243,047 from $236,746,746 to $247,989,793
In 2020 you increased municipal taxes $18,738,097.06 from $247,989,793 to $266,727,890.06
In your letter, you stated you used one-time COVID-19 stimulus funds in 2021 to lower municipal taxes. The reduction was (-$59,333,246.80) from $266,727,890.06 totaling a net $207,394,643.26 in municipal tax levy, but not because of the schools, it was because it was your 3rd term re-election year and you did not want the municipal tax to be higher than the school tax which was levied at $233,627,146 due to state aid cuts.
In 2022, after your re-election, you increased the municipal tax levy a whopping $112,171,504.84 to completely wipe out the $59,333,246.80 decrease in taxes from 2021, and still created a net increase in municipal taxes for 2022 in the amount of $52,838,258.04.
In this 2022 budget, the media also reported the city used over $70 million in ARP funds to lower the tax levy. If this is in fact the case, then your initial Municipal Tax Levy was $389,566,148.10, less the $70,000,000 (rounded) resulting in a $319,566,148.10 Municipal Tax Levy due to the ARP funds you used to offset.
Also in your letter, you stated, “Compared to other municipalities throughout the region, you will find that Jersey City stands out for our tax stability over the past nine years, as most other towns and cities across the nation have turned to large municipal tax increases to balance their budgets. Jersey City is different as we have taken a different approach.” This is grossly inaccurate as you can see that you have clearly increased taxes since 2015 after riding an 8% tax increase when you became mayor in 2013 while the schools were being cut funding and capped at a 2% levy increase for years, essentially starving the schools.
Here are two questions you need to answer for us taxpayers Mr. Mayor. The schools had to raise its levy due to widely publicized and unprecedented state aid cuts based on the massive development wealth value you created in partnership with developers in Jersey City increasing property values to $45 billion. Question 1. What was your excuse for raising the Municipal Tax Levy when the city provided no financial help to the schools? Question 2. Is the city benefitting enough financially from this increased property wealth value creation to stabilize property taxes? If so, please illustrate why it has not trickled down to lowering the Municipal Tax Levy as seen in my analysis.
Your explanation to us taxpayers in your tax bill letter is unacceptable when you made no attempts to cut any of your city expenses or create efficiencies and you never revealed the results of your abatement audit to my knowledge. Then your council president makes a video saying the Board of Ed needs to be held accountable? Just remember when you are pointing your finger, three fingers are pointing back at you and my attached spreadsheet analysis clearly reveals the proof in the pudding and that the devil is in the details in response to your letter.
Finally, now that the facts are out and the record on property taxes has been set straight, I am requesting that you please stop telling untruths to the public about property taxes and stop blaming the school system. It is very insulting and condescending to all of us taxpayers.
P.S. I will also be meeting with numerous individuals and groups all around Jersey City to explain the real facts about our property taxes and clear up the misinformation you have been spreading.
Lifelong Jersey City resident and taxpayer
Explainer: How Are Schools Funded in New Jersey, and Why Are My Property Taxes So High?