Monday, March 1, 2010

Downtown Commercial Uses: Key to Reducing Property Tax Burden on Residents

The cost of Borough operations in Highlands has been the subject of much scrutiny over the past two years. Levy Cap restrictions have generated concern as reductions in State Aid produced a need for possible tax increases throughout the Borough. The Governing Body of the Borough of Highlands is proud of our work with the Budget Review Advisory Committee in scrutinizing our Borough budget, and in prioritizing actions to keep taxes from rising despite economic forces beyond our control. Every employee in the Borough has committed to seeking ways to reduce costs in each department. Understanding that Borough operations are already at a bare bones level, your Borough employees have worked with the Governing Body to reduce the Borough budget by 5%. Sadly, this was not enough to result in a budget with a zero increase this year, the goal of the Budget Committee.

However, your representatives are continuing to identify Council actions that will further reduce the Borough's budget while we look for ways to increase revenue to provide resident taxpayers some relief in troubled economic times. Improving the Downtown Business District is one solution which would provide significant additional revenue. Through renewed Code Enforcement efforts along Bay Avenue, Borough officials will assist property owners in cleaning up and ensuring a presentable appearance adding to property values in the Business District. By enacting new zoning ordinances with relaxed height restrictions, we have made it possible for new Commercial Uses to be established downtown. Professional offices provide pedestrian traffic and a demand for retail and restaurant services throughout the day. Such offices provide minimal negative impact to residents living in the mixed use environment on Bay Avenue.

Commercial uses in properties on Bay Avenue provide reliable rental income to property owners. The potential income realized from the operation of a business on the property increases the assessed value of commercial properties in the business district. Because Borough operations remain more or less the same, if businesses are paying more taxes, the resident portion of the tax levy should decrease. Targeting Bay Avenue for commercial uses that will increase property values is one way Highlands Governing Body can produce relief for resident taxpayers. The new Commercial Uses would also provide new or increased income to property owners.

During this difficult Economic time when people are losing their jobs and seeking alternatives to support their families, Highlands must be creative in providing every available opportunity for Borough residents and business owners to survive. The Economic downturn is causing many business owners in more expensive commercial districts to consider downsizing or closing their doors. The Highlands Business District provides an alternative for these businesses to reduce their costs and remain viable, saving jobs and maybe even producing a few for Borough residents.

The Governing Body of the Borough of Highlands reminds our resident taxpayers that successful businesses in Highlands keep your residential tax bill low. When businesses leave Highlands, resident taxes will increase. Remember to thank a business owner for toughing it out in this difficult economic time. Try to shop local, keeping revenue close to home. And above all we must count our blessings in each other, and pull together against the pressures we are facing. Highlands people have learned over the years that by working together, we can weather the storm. We are strong stock. Our struggles make our future brighter. It doesn't cost a dime to see a sunrise on Sandy Hook, or to watch a sunset from the Highlands waterfront. With so many priceless gifts to offer, there is no reason we should not prevail.