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An historic moment

On Tuesday night, 9/19 the Historic Preservation Commission** voted to advise the Zoning Board not to approve a proposal to convert the Main Street Exxon station into a combination gas station and convenience store. https://chathamchoice.org/2023/07/how-convenient/

The reason? The application was inconsistent with many of the Design Guidelines for Chatham’s Historic District and lacked sufficient details. https://www.chathamborough.org/government/documents/meeting-documents/historic-preservation-meetings/2022-historic-preservation-meeting-documents/2123-chatham-borough-historic-district-design-guidelines-2021-0221-compressed/file

End of story? No, it’s just the beginning.

The applicant could try to convince the Zoning Board to ignore the advice of the HPC, or could spruce up its proposal and give HPC another try.

That’s something HPC encouraged the applicant to consider, and it seems the applicant may do just that.

Today the Borough website indicates that 9/27 hearing before the Zoning Board will be put off once again, this time until at least October. https://chathamborough.org/resident/calendar/zoning-board-2-1695857400

Of course, even if the applicant can satisfy the Design Guidelines for the Historic District, it will still need to meet the other legal requirements for the variances necessary to complete the proposed project.

Stay tuned.

The Chatham Press, 4 Sep 1936

** The author has elected not to vote or otherwise participate in this matter in her capacity as an alternate commissioner.

Wait. You mean we’re getting another property tax increase?

Yes. Your Chatham school taxes will go up 4.5% next year.

State law allows our School Board to PERMANENTLY raise our school taxes by 2% each year.

This year, they’re also going to PERMANENTLY raise taxes an extra 2.5% ($1.75 million) unless residents vote that down at the polls in November.

Not only will that mean a 4.5% increase next year, it will also mean that our school taxes will increase faster in the future, and there will be no way to reverse the effect. Even the automatic 2% annual school tax increase will be based on a bigger number every year going forward.

Why would the School Board do that?

They say they need an extra $1.75 million next year. That includes $900,000 (a 1.3% increase) to provide health benefits for full-time teachers’ aides, and another $850,000 (a 1.23% increase) to put security vestibules in all the schools.

Before we vote on such a significant tax increase, we need and deserve some facts and answers.

For instance, what other options did the School Board consider? Why couldn’t they fit those expenses into the regular $86.3 million school budget?

Most important, why not simply raise just enough to pay for the security doors? Why a PERMANENT tax increase?

A permanent increase may make sense for recurring expenses, like health benefits, but not for the one-time cost of security doors. They say there will be other security expenses. But what are they?

At the very least, the School Board should spell out exactly what it intends to do with the extra $850,000 in each of the next ten years after the security doors are in place.

It’s your money. They’re your schools. Your children.

Get the facts.

Go to the School Board meeting on Monday September 18, 2023 at 7:30 pm in the High School auditorium.

Email members of the School Board: https://www.chatham-nj.org/staff?filter_ids=302292

Demand that the School Board hold a Town Hall to explain the issue, entertain questions, and hear from residents.

Read up on the school budget: https://chathamchoice.org/2023/04/what-does-it-take-to-educate-4000-children-teens/

Check the School Board website for recent history of the issue: https://www.chatham-nj.org/

Before October 17, make sure you’re registered to vote. https://nj.gov/state/elections/voter-registration.shtml

Vote early or go to the polls on November 7.

Postponed to Oct. 25!

Would you like to see a convenience store/gas station in Chatham’s Main Street Historic District?

Should our Zoning Board waive the normal rules to allow that?* **

Come to the public Zoning Board hearing.

NEW DATE Wednesday, October 25, 7:30 pm, at Chatham Borough Hall, 54 Fairmount Avenue, upper level. Now it’s been pushed back again, for October, on a date to be determined. https://chathamborough.org/resident/calendar/zoning-board-2-1695857400

What’s this all about?

The new owner of the Exxon station on Main Street hopes to add a convenience store that’s inconsistent with the Borough Code. To go ahead, he must convince the Zoning Board that adding that store would be good for Chatham.***

The applicant operates a similar gas/convenience store that’s open 24/7 just over the border in Summit. 18 County Rd 649 – Google Maps

https://www.7-eleven.com/locations/nj/summit/6-river-rd-38126
6 River Road

The main difference is that the Shell/7-Eleven on River Road has a brick facade, instead of the vinyl siding the applicant plans for the TigerMart on Chatham’s Main Street.

https://www.propertyshark.com/mason/Property/4431940/6-River-Rd-Summit-NJ-07901/

https://njparcels.com/property/2018/201/12#google_vignette

By keeping long hours – often all night – convenience stores average 1,400 transactions per day, and most patrons (65%) consume their purchases on the spot. “Litter can be a significant challenge,” notes the trade association that advocates for the industry. @

The Exxon proposal for Chatham would also involve chopping down at least one 20 ft Douglas Fir tree and adding a bigger sign that lights up.** https://ecode360.com/33846367#33846367. https://ecode360.com/6793659

How would a place like that affect Chatham’s historic district or the value of nearby homes on or near Hillside Avenue?

Historic district: https://www.chathamborough.org/government/documents/maps/1260-chatham-borough-historic-district-april-2014/file

https://www.chathamborough.org/government/documents/meeting-documents/historic-preservation-meetings/2022-historic-preservation-meeting-documents/2123-chatham-borough-historic-district-design-guidelines-2021-0221-compressed/file

Come to the public hearing October 25, 7:30 pm, at Chatham Borough Hall, 54 Fairmount Avenue, upper level.

That is your chance to get the facts, ask questions, make comments, and show you care about your town.

If you cannot be there in person, you can Zoom or call in. You’ll find the directions by clicking on the 9/27 Zoning Board Meeting to be posted in late September on the Borough calendar:

https://chathamborough.org

https://chathamborough.org/resident/calendar/zoning-board-2-1692833400

The Zoning Board has announced that there will be no further official notice of this proposed project.

* Details about the 0.59-acre property, block 122/lot 2: https://njparcels.com/property/1404/122/2

** Exactly what is the applicant proposing to build? To see the complete application, visit the Clerk’s office at Borough Hall, 54 Main Street or click on “Agenda Packet” for the Zoning Board at this link: https://chathamborough.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=1

Or download the basic application (no exhibits or supporting documents):

*** What does the applicant need to prove? https://chathamborough.org/boards/zone

Want more detail? Look at these files:

Any similar situations?

https://casetext.com/case/financial-services-v-zoning-brd-of-adj

@ Source: “Convenience Stores and Their Communities,” published April 2019 by National Association of Convenience Stores, accessed August 5, 2023 at https://www.lilanduseandzoning.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/128/2020/01/How-Stores-Work.pdf

The big question

Delighted to see some fresh faces at the May 8 Borough Council meeting. Kudos to the four newcomers who stepped up to the microphone that night to talk about the biggest issue facing the Borough, namely:

Shall we use our Borough PILOT revenue from the new River Road development to reduce our property taxes and pay for urgent necessities like fire trucks? Or shall we spend that money on luxuries and gifts?

Before that night, every Borough resident who spoke out asked the Council to use our PILOT money for property tax relief and urgent necessities like fire trucks.

We heard a different point of view at that May 8th Council meeting, where three Borough residents – and a lady from Chatham Township – asked the Borough Council to spend some of our Borough PILOT money on gifts to our joint School District.

(Click here https://chathamborough.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=1&clip_id=129 and start around minute 1:07:00)

That’s understandable: Education is a worthy cause. If the schools need more money, then they should have it. And vigorous discussion can help foster informed decision-making.

Yet judging from the comments made at that Council meeting, we are nowhere near ready to make an informed decision about our Borough PILOT money. Some of the speakers seemed downright confused.

For instance, most of the speakers didn’t seem to realize that the PILOT money is OUR money – a Borough asset. If we give it away, we’ll have to raise our Borough property taxes to pay for necessities like fire trucks.

Also, most of the May 8 presentations to the Council rested on the mistaken assumption that the School District is is short on funds and has nowhere else to turn for help.

That simply isn’t the case.

In fact, the School District has far greater resources than does Chatham Borough – including a $86.3 million annual budget and the option to raise additional funds from Borough and Township taxpayers alike, using ballot questions like the two we’ll vote on this November.

https://chathamchoice.org/2023/04/what-does-it-take-to-educate-4000-children-teens/?preview=true

As such, simply gifting scarce Borough funds to the School District makes no more sense than giving them to the local Post Office, New Jersey Transit, the Morristown hospital.

Important as those institutions are, they aren’t municipal functions, and neither is the School District. The Council has no business diverting scarce Borough resources to any non-municipal purpose without voter approval.

What’s more, the Borough Council has no right to meddle in School District affairs. It should stay in its own lane, and defer to the proper authority on local education: the School Board.

If the School District needs more money, the Township and Borough should share the expense – the same way they share every other cost of operating the schools- following the normal process the School Board has been using for years:

Residents pitch their ideas to the School Board. If the Board deems an expenditure worthwhile, it either fits it into its regular guaranteed annual budget, or else floats a ballot question, giving Borough and Township residents alike the chance to decide if the idea justifies raising our taxes. That’s the normal procedure. The Borough Council plays no role in that..

If the Council is determined to overstep its traditional role and consider diverting our Borough PILOT funds for a gift in excess of the Borough’s fair share of school expenses, it certainly should not do so without the consent of residents.

The Council should put the question on the ballot and let Borough voters decide.

At the very least, the Council should provide a timely forum for vigorous, robust public debate before even considering earmarking our Borough PILOT money for any particular purpose.

The Borough Council and voters alike should beware of making such an important choice based on false assumptions. For instance:

PILOT PAYMENTS: MYTH versus REALITY

MYTH: Only a selfish cheapskate – who values money more than the education of our children – would oppose gifting our Borough PILOT money to the School District.

MYTH:  The School District deserves a portion of our Borough’s River Road PILOT money, because the District would have received nearly two thirds of the property taxes from River Road if it paid property taxes.

REALITY:  Not so. It’s a question of accountability. For the Council to gift money to the School District is to do an end run around voters, diminishing the community’s voice in our schools – and potentially subjecting them to partisan political control. 

REALITY: Not so. Given the 2% cap, the School District wouldn’t be entitled to any additional property tax revenue if River Road were a taxpaying development.

MYTH: Even if the School District isn’t legally entitled to a portion of the PILOT money, the Council should gift the District PILOT money in light of the additional schoolchildren at River Road.

REALITY: Nonsense. Absent voter approval, the School District’s portion of property taxes remains exactly the same whether enrollment plummets or soars. Why should the possibility of additional school children at River Road change that rule?

MYTH: If the Borough doesn’t promise to share our PILOT money with the School District, the quality of education will suffer.

REALITY: Nonsense. The School Board president has admitted it’s impossible to predict how much – or even if – the River Road project might increase school expenses. If it does increase expenses significantly, the District will budget for it – or else float a ballot question to raise more money, just like every other district in the state.

MYTH: If the Borough Council doesn’t share our PILOT money with the School District, it will unfairly burden Township residents with the cost of educating additional Borough school children at River Road.

REALITY: Preposterous. Borough residents are required to help bear the cost of educating additional children from new Township developments like the Enclave. How is it unfair for Township residents to help bear the cost of educating additional children from a new Borough development like River Road?

Tell your Mayor & Borough Council what you think!

[email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected]

For the response click here: https://chathamborough.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=1&clip_id=130 (Minute 2:14:45)

For more detail, check out this letter: 

https://www.tapinto.net/towns/chatham/articles/it-s-our-money-use-borough-pilot-revenues-to-reduce-property-taxes-and-cover-necessities

Care to dig deeper? Click here: 

https://www.tapinto.net/towns/chatham/articles/chatham-borough-council-do-the-right-thing-concerning-pilot-not-merely-what-s-legally-permissible-or-expedient

Budget Tricks

When you pay property taxes to Chatham Borough or Township, approximately two thirds of your tax dollars go to pay 90% of the cost of running the Chatham schools – around $86 million per year.

That’s a big deal, because how the School Board chooses to spend your tax dollars pretty much determines the quality of education your children get – and the resale value of your house.

How will the School Board opt to spend your money next year? How much will they raise your property taxes?

Find out this Monday, April 24, 7:30 pm, when our School Board votes on the 2023/2024 budget.

Ever wonder who is responsible for making sure our school tax dollars are well spent?

Certainly not our Chatham Borough and Township officials. Yes, they collect the property taxes, but they have no control over the amount of money that goes to the schools – or how it’s spent.

Almost equally powerless are Chatham Borough and Township residents. Sure we pay the property taxes, but we have virtually no control over how the School Board spends our money.

Why? Because we lost control of our schools in 2015, when our School Board decided to stop letting us residents vote on the annual budget.

(For details, click here: https://chathamchoice.org/2015/10/lost-your-right-to-vote-on-the-school-budget/ or go to the 1 hour 46 minute mark here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rbel8dtNRMc)

Since 2015, Chatham parents and residents have had a voice in the operation of our schools only on the rare occasions when the School Board was looking to exceed last year’s budget by more than 2%. That’s rare because the 2% cap excludes certain frequent increases in health and pension costs.

Result? The Chatham School Board is seldom held accountable to anyone.

Consider the $86.3 million budget (linked below) that our School Board expects to adopt at its April 24 meeting. That budget fills 103 pages but it isn’t terribly illuminating. (What, for instance, are the “other purchased services” that are up 100% over last year? p. 13, Line 78100)

Even if there were something dreadful buried in those pages, Chatham residents couldn’t stop it, because the increase over last year’s budget falls under the 2% cap.

And that cap is elastic. For instance, this year’s proposed budget includes a cap bank, which will allow the School Board to exceed the 2% cap by $1 million next year – without triggering a vote on the budget. (p. 31)

Most troubling is the way the proposed budget treats capital spending. It shows a “decrease in capital improvements” next year (p. 13), when in reality the School Board plans to raise our property taxes so it can spend an extra $850,000 on security doors. (p. 32)

The proposal to build security doors falls outside the 2% cap because the School Board has decided to let Chatham residents vote on it next November, along with a proposal to spend an extra $975,000 on full-time teacher’s aides {paraprofessionals.) (p. 33)

Both of those so-called “second questions” seem like worthy causes. If the School Board cannot cover them in the regular budget, then taking them to the voters in November is the right thing to do. But the way the School Board has done it is wrong.

Trouble is, the School Board has positioned both proposals as permanent increases in our property taxes, and in the base budget used to calculate the 2% annual increases going forward, which will yield even higher property taxes.

That may be fine for paying full-time paraprofessionals, because that’s a recurring expense. It is not fine when it comes to installing the security doors, a one-time expense that cannot justify a permanent increase in the school budget.

What would the School Board do with that money in subsequent years? The second question about the security doors doesn’t say.

Why would we allow the School Board to raise our taxes permanently by $850,000 (plus 2% annually forever) without explanation?

That doesn’t seem to comply with NJ Fiscal Accountability law, which forbids using such a proposal to raise money for “any capital outlay(s) necessary for health and safety reasons” Section 6A:23A-12.1 (a)(3) and requires such proposals to be worded clearly, “specifically identifying the program purposes” Section 6A:23A-12.1 (a)(6) https://casetext.com/regulation/new-jersey-administrative-code/title-6a-education/chapter-23a-fiscal-accountability-efficiency-and-budgeting-procedures

See for yourself here: https://casetext.com/regulation/new-jersey-administrative-code/title-6a-education/chapter-23a-fiscal-accountability-efficiency-and-budgeting-procedures/subchapter-12-tax-levy-growth-limitation-separate-voter-approval/section-6a23a-121-voter-authorization-to-exceed-tax-levy-limitation-separate-proposals

The solution is for the School Board to edit the second question to make the purpose explicit, fit the security doors into its regular budget, perhaps drawing on its capital reserves, or else simply reframe that proposal as a one-time expenditure.

If the Board refuses to make that simple correction, we’ll face a tough choice in November: either vote down the security doors or accept a permanent increase in our property taxes for no known purpose.

See the proposed budget here:

You can find budget summaries here:

https://www.chatham-nj.org/domain/1622

What would you like to see in the center of Chatham Borough?

Come see what the developer has in mind for Post Office Plaza, and share your views with the Historic Preservation Commission:

Tuesday March 21, 7:30 pm, Borough Hall, 54 Fairmount Avenue, upper level.

Here’s what they’re considering:

https://chathamborough.org/component/dpcalendar/event/historic-preservation-3-1679441400?Itemid=809

Priorities & accountability

Why would our Chatham Borough Council even consider gifting our River Road PILOT money to anyone when we’re in such desperate need of fire trucks and other necessities?

That was the elephant in the room at the Monday, 3/13 meeting of our Borough Council.

River Road

The elephant got loose during a presentation by a principal of BNE, the developer of the massive, stick-built apartment project going up at the corner of Watchung Avenue and River Road.

Asked if our volunteer fire department has the equipment, the manpower, and the training necessary to fight a real fire at River Road, the presenter, a principal with the developer, BNE Real Estate Group, said, “Yes, currently Chatham Borough has what they need to fight a fire in that building.” See the video linked below starting about 1:18:00.

https://chathamborough.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=1&clip_id=119

Is that true? No.

Brave, dedicated, and skilled as they are, our volunteer firefighters need more personnel, more training, and far newer fire trucks than Chatham Borough has – or can provide anytime soon, according to longtime, respected Borough resident Robert Penn, a former captain in the Bloomfield Fire Department who worked in the fire service for 44 years and has taught classes in Building Construction and Advanced Firefighting Tactics and Strategy. (Go to minute 37:46 in the following video:0)

https://chathamborough.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=1&clip_id=106

Chatham’s fire trucks are so old and obsolete that they pose a risk to the safety of residents and fire fighters alike, says Penn.

https://patch.com/new-jersey/chatham/fire-safety-concerns-prompt-chatham-resident-call-new-equipment

In the event of a real fire at the River Road development, our volunteers would have to wait for help from surrounding towns.

The problem isn’t new or partisan. It dates back at least a decade, when the other political party controlled the Council. It will take years to get the necessary equipment.

https://www.tapinto.net/towns/chatham/articles/a-firefighter-s-response-to-mathiasen-s-letter-on-post-office-plaza

https://www.newjerseyhills.com/robert-penn-requests-chatham-look-into-replacing-outdated-apparatus/image_f38c5cac-6f49-5c16-acb2-4ced7f6655ba.html

https://www.newjerseyhills.com/chatham_courier/news/chatham-to-hire-consultant-to-help-craft-fire-apparatus-replacement-plan/article_1bbc2229-7f63-521e-a17a-a33703f740d9.html

Popular Borough Council Member Len Resto is working on getting the fire trucks we need. It will cost a bundle. The Council should use our PILOT money for tax relief and fire trucks, not for gifts. Certainly not without the informed consent of Chatham residents.

That the Council would even consider giving away our PILOT money without our consent is mind boggling. It’s a great example of what can happen when we don’t hold our elected representatives accountable for their decisions.

If the Council explains the situation, and residents vote to give away our PILOT money anyway, that’s their choice. But residents are entitled to know what’s at stake before any decisions are made.

Check out this letter:

https://www.tapinto.net/towns/chatham/articles/it-s-our-money-use-borough-pilot-revenues-to-reduce-property-taxes-and-cover-necessities

For more information, click here:

https://www.tapinto.net/towns/chatham/articles/chatham-borough-council-do-the-right-thing-concerning-pilot-not-merely-what-s-legally-permissible-or-expedient

Like to pay lower property taxes? Or at least not pay more than necessary?

New Jersey suffers the nation’s highest property taxes, and they usually increase at least 2% per year – plus whatever it takes to cover certain exempt expenses, like health care and pensions for retired municipal workers.

In Chatham Borough, our property taxes will continue to increase even more than 2% per year unless our Council gets smart, and chooses to spend the millions in revenues expected from River Road for necessities – and easing our tax burden – rather than for luxuries and gifts.

How will the recent revaluation affect my property taxes?

Chatham Borough recently took a fresh look at the market value of taxable real estate in town as of October 1, 2022.

We’ve all seen the results: significant increases in the assessed values the Borough will use to calculate our property taxes.

Will those higher assessed values mean higher property taxes?

What do soaring property values portend for taxpayers?

Not necessarily. The Borough revaluation shouldn’t increase your property tax bill unless the value of you property has risen faster than the total value of taxable real estate in Chatham Borough – the tax base.

You can estimate the actual effect of the reassessment on your property using this handy online calculator provided by the firm doing the reassessment: http://asinj.com/revaluation/docs/taximpact/443/Chatham%202023%20Revaluation%20Tax%20Worksheet.pdf

The calculator is easy to use:

Just fill in Boxes A and B with the values shown in your reassessment letter and last tax bill. The calculator will do the rest, comparing the change in the value of your property with the change in the value of all taxable property in the Borough, and using the estimated new tax rate in Box E – 1.488% – to predict how much your property tax bill will go up or down. The answer will appear in Box H.

Beware: The result you see in Box H paints a rosy and misleading picture.

Your actual tax bill will probably increase a good bit more than the calculator indicates in Box H, because the estimated 1.488% property tax rate shown in Box E is almost certainly too low.

The new tax rate estimate shown in Box E is probably too low, because it does not take into account likely looming increases in this year’s local budgets.

How do we know the new estimated tax rate doesn’t take into account those looming local budget increases? The proof is in last line, below the calculator, where it says the estimated 1.488% tax rate in Box E assumes our Borough and School District budgets will stay at 2022 levels.

Fat chance. Both the Borough Council and the School Board are fixing to increase their spending in ways that will probably mean significantly higher property tax bills all around.

While it’s certainly possible that the Council and School Board really do need more money to fulfill their respective missions, we shouldn’t blindly accept annual tax increases. They should go through normal channels and ask taxpayers for what they need

It’s possible the Borough Council could even REDUCE our property taxes simply by: 1) increasing the tax base (for instance selling excess tax exempt Borough real estate like the Stanley Church); 2) using the proceeds for urgent needs like a new fire truck; 3) using new sources of revenue (like the PILOT payments) for other absolute necessities (like affordable housing at Post Office Plaza); 4) putting off spending on inessentials; and 5) flatly refusing to make outright gifts using taxpayer funds.

Instead, some Council members seem bent on doing just the opposite, which will make your property taxes continue to increase.

For instance, some members of our Council aim to gift a portion of the Borough’s PILOT revenues to the School District.

With so many pressing demands on our Borough funds, you really have to wonder why any Council member would even consider giving away Borough money – especially to an entity like the School District, which already has far greater resources than does the Borough.

The reasons offered for that gift are based on myths:

MYTH: The PILOT payments are “found money” – extra funds for the Council to spend as it pleases.

FACT: The PILOT payments are Borough assets, property of the taxpayers.

We earned that PILOT money by granting the developer a property tax exemption for 30 years. Though the Council is free to spend -or squander – that money on pet projects and discretionary gifts, that isn’t the right thing to do.

The right thing for the Council to do is to use the PILOT money with the same care and discretion they would if the developer were required to pay full property taxes.

https://www.tapinto.net/towns/chatham/articles/chatham-borough-council-do-the-right-thing-concerning-pilot-not-merely-what-s-legally-permissible-or-expedient

If that PILOT money were from normal property taxes, the Council couldn’t spend it on a whim. By law, the Council would get only 102% of what it got last year – plus enough to cover certain exceptional expenses. The Council would be required to use the balance of the funds to lighten our property tax burden.

That is exactly how the Council should use the PILOT money – unless we residents and taxpayers agree otherwise.

MYTH: Right or no right, the School District DESERVES a portion of the River Road PILOT payments, because it would have been entitled to a portion if the Council were collecting real property taxes on the project.

FACT: Even if the River Road developer were paying full property taxes, the School District would NOT be entitled to a portion of the additional property taxes collected.

Why? The School District’s share of our property taxes is NOT based on the amount collected. No matter how much – or little – the Borough collects in property taxes, the School District gets the same amount: 102% of what it got last year, plus enough to cover certain extra expenses. The Borough Council has NO OBLIGATION to give the District any extra property tax funds.

MYTH: Even if the School District isn’t automatically entitled to a portion of the PILOT payments from River Road, it should get a portion, to make up for the additional cost of educating school children who will move into the River Road development.

FACT: The prospect of additional school children does NOT entitle the School District to any additional funding from property taxes

Higher district-wide enrollment might get the School District of the Chathams a little more state aid, but that’s a drop in the bucket, making up only about 5% of our School District’s nearly $85.6 million budget for the current 2022-2023 school year.

Whether school enrollment skyrockets or plummets, the Chatham School District is entitled to the same 102% of what it got from property taxes last year, along with enough money to cover certain exempt expenses.

And in the Chathams, enrollment isn’t increasing. It’s falling. It has been falling for years, and the Superintendent has predicted it will continue to fall until at least 2029.

When even an increase in overall, district-wide enrollment wouldn’t entitle the School District to any additional school property taxes, a few more children in the River Road developmentcannot justify arbitrarily gifting a share of the Borough’s own PILOT revenues.

MYTH: If the Borough doesn’t choose to share its PILOT payments with the School District, our schools will suffer.

FACT: The School District of the Chathams is pretty well insulated from financial pressure. Its budget tops $85 million – more than twice that of the Borough and Township combined – and the District enjoys an absolute right to local property tax funding in the amount of 102% of what it got from Borough and Township property taxes the year before, plus enough to pay certain other expenses, totaling approximately 90% of its annual budget, and our School District also routinely qualifies for state and federal aid.

Is it possible that our School District nonetheless really needs even more local funding than it’s already guaranteed by NJ law. Yes, sure.

If the School Board does in fact need more money to run the schools, it can and should get the necessary funds directly from the taxpayers, in a referendum or second question, same as Westfield’s school board is doing: https://www.tapinto.net/towns/westfield/sections/education/articles/westfield-schools-early-budget-figures-above-nj-s-cap-voters-will-choose

For the Borough to simply give away much-needed Borough PILOT money to the School District would be like giving away New Jersey tax dollars to the U.S. Department of Defense – a far bigger entity with its own funding source.

MYTH: Giving PILOT money to the Schoool District would force the developer to pay its fair share of school costs.

FACT: Gifting PILOT money to the District would have NO effect on the developer.

All that gift would do is deprive Borough taxpayers of our chance to use the funds for urgent necessities like a new fire truck – or perhaps a tax break.

There is no justification for the Council to simply gift our PILOT funds to the School District, and darn good reasons not to make such gifts: Not only would it be financially irresponsible, it would also be tantamount to an end run around School District parents and residents. Such gifts would raise the specter of partisan meddling in our schools.

Even a small gift to the School District would establish a dangerous precedent, and the dollar amount could be adjusted upward each year, as former Borough engineer Vince Denave noted at a 2021 Town Hall.

If the Council is considering take such risks, it should explain why – and get the informed consent of residents BEFORE making any decisions.