Urban tax hike to subsidize more affluent Union County communities

Union County Commissioner Sergio Granados made a visit with Council President Denise Wilkerson and Councilwoman Cindy Thomas, but the campaigning politicians did not discuss why Roselle homeowners are facing tax hikes to subsidize wealthier communities.

Following a public hearing on Thursday, Granados and his colleagues on the Board of Commissioners adopted a $​​513.7 million budget, which will reduce the tax levy for average Union County homeowners in most towns but cause Roselle taxes to increase $55 from 2021

The average Roselle homeowner’s 2021 county tax bill was $1,239 but that number is going up to $1,294 in 2022.

Summit, which has the 16th-highest per capita income in the state, will see county taxes decrease $267 compared to 2021, and homeowners in New Providence, where the median household income is $149,718, will get a $118 decrease compared to the previous year.

The $29,721 per capita income in Roselle leaves the working-class community with a poverty rate of 8.17 percent, according to the latest Census data.

Granados simply avoided discussion about the tax hike but Wilkerson and Thomas have been falsely claiming that Roselle has had no increase three years in a row, while their austerity scheme of defunding the police resulted in a significant rise in crime.

While the county’s half-billion spending plan means an average tax decrease of $28 for typical county homeowners, the impact varies by municipality.

In Roselle, the average homeowner’s tax levy will instead rise by $55 to subsidize the tax cut afforded to other Union County towns, where home values are much greater and residents earn far more money than the average person in Roselle.

“The COVID-19 pandemic recovery and rising inflation have put a strain on many households struggling, so every little bit helps,” said Granados, who chairs the Fiscal Committee that was responsible for the budget allocating the Roselle tax increase.

The county budget raises $367 million through taxes, which will finance most of the county’s $1.4-million-a-day spending spree, which implemented a ‘defund the police’ ideology.

The rise in crime coincided with Granados’ closure of the county jail in Elizabeth, where 243 correctional officer jobs were cut to just 53 guards, who now temporarily hold prisoners awaiting transport to the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark.

Wilkerson, Thomas and Mayor Donald Shaw, remain intent on pursuing a policy to defund the police as part of their continued austerity scheme, but they bought a new building to provide offices for out-of-town lawyers who have low-show contracts with the borough.

The budget increased the county’s $55.7 million employee group insurance premiums, up $11.7 million from last year, and its employee prescription plan, which increased by $1.4 million to $22.9 million.

County taxes will go up this year in Roselle, Elizabeth, Hillside, Kenilworth, Plainfield, Rahway, Roselle Park, ​​Springfield, and Union, while the other 12 municipalities will see decreases.

Despite the closure of the jail, staff reductions at the Union County Improvement Authority and other cuts, County Manager Edward Oatman disputed the suggestion that there is any loss of services. Oatman got an 18.8 percent pay hike in January.

Administrative Services Director Laura Scutari, whose uncle is the county political boss Senator Nicholas “No-Show Nick” Scutari, got a 9.1% raise while Finance Director Bibi Taylor and other top government employees got wage hikes between eight and 12 percent.

Taylor said COVID-19 was a primary reason for rising health insurance costs.

In Berkeley Heights, the average county tax bill will decrease by $57 from 2021, Clark homeowners will see a $56 tax cut and Cranford taxes will drop by $92.

The average county tax bill in Fanwood will be $64 lower, Garwood taxes will decrease $54, and Linden will get a $21 decrease from 2021.

Mountainside will see a $12 decrease, in Scotch Plains, the decrease is $43 and Westfield homeowners will get a $94 tax reduction.

Granados and his part-time colleagues each received wage increases under the ordinance they approved after the election last year, which set pay for the board’s chairperson at $37,178.36, the board’s vice-chairperson at $35,998.29 and each of the remaining seven county commissioners at $34,818.23.

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