Nothing is certain but death and taxes, they say. And by and large, taxes keep on going up.
Yet, Lakewood Mayor Ray Coles is proud to point out unlike Public School District taxes, Lakewood Municipal property taxes have not gone up even one penny over the past three years – a trend that Mayor Coles and his fellow committeemen hope to continue in the years ahead.
Property taxes in New Jersey are notoriously high. This is certainly true for Lakewood homeowners. “New Jersey is unique among the fifty states, in that virtually all education spending is supported by local property tax revenue,” says Mayor Coles.Half of every Lakewood property tax dollar goes to the Public School District; nineteencents go to the County; two cents to the Fire Department, and twenty-ninecents to the Municipal Township budget.
With the Public School District budget growing each year and the District underfunded by the State to the tune of $40,000,000 each year, the Public School taxes keep going up.
Yet, the Municipal portion – nearly a third – has remained flat year after year. Mayor Coles points out that this wasn’t easy. This past year, the Municipal government took responsibility for the cost of Safety (Courtesy) Busing for the Public School kids, to relieve the over-pressured District, which has historically shouldered the full responsibility for transportation. Despite assuming this huge financial obligation Municipal taxes have not gone up – and the Mayor vows, “they won’t under my watch.”
The Mayor – who is the longest serving Democratic officeholder in the County – stresses that municipal fiscal prudence did not come at the expense of the safety and quality of life of Lakewood residents. He points out that while any crime is too much crime, overall town-wide crime rates are well under control in Lakewood. “As Mayor I work nonstop with the Police Department, EMS, LCSW (Lakewood Civilian Safety Watch), Chaveirim and Hatzalah to keep the public safe,” he remarks.
Similarly, the Mayor has worked hard to make the Department of Public Works more efficient. For instance, the Mayor oversaw the complex changeover to automated trash collection trucks, which are operated by only a driver – instead of three employees. This significantly cuts down not only on salaries, benefits and pensions, but also on worker’s comp expenditures and payouts for injuries.
Overall, the Mayor pays close attention to every aspect of the municipal budget and operations, and works to cut down on any waste. He feels a unique sense of pride and responsibility to Lakewood residents, having been on the Township Committee since 2001.
“My goal this year is to once again do a top down review of all Municipal departments in order to ensure that costs stay down,” says Coles, noting that vigilance in government is always vital. “Yet, rest assured that I will not cut corners in any way for important expenditures – be it in streetlights, improving intersections, installing sidewalks and ensuring that every citizen is safe.”