Property Tax & Local Budgets, An Intro to the series

This is part of a series about local budgets and property tax. View the series landing page here.

I am launching a new series on CivicParent about the local government budget process and property tax.  My hope is for this series to be:

  • A practical roadmap for taxpayers who may want to engage the 2023 local budget cycle in their community.
  • Primarily targeted at taxpayers who are relatively new to the realm of property tax and the local budget process.
  • A space to share public data that informs the property tax landscape in municipalities throughout NJ.
  • A space to share how available tools data visualization can help inform and encourage civic engagement.

To help frame what I intend this series to be about, I’ll share three brief insights from 2022:

1–Last January I helped a terrific team of civic advocates in Montclair research and present a live webinar about their local municipal budget. I worked with them remotely from summer into fall, then accompanied them as they teamed up with their local council representative to teach their municipal budget in community. It was an effective modeling (via Zoom) of creating space to dialog about the local budget process. That teaming effort was born out of a 2020 series that I wrote about NJ’s User Friendly Budget (a civic leader from Montclair reached out to me in response to that series which got the ball rolling towards the January 2022 web tutorial).

2–Then in late June I hosted a budget teaching at Saint Peter’s University (where I work my day job as an assistant professor) about the local city budget. I have been writing a series about the local city (aka municipal) budget since 2019 and I decided last year that, emerging from the virtual paradigm of COVID, I would bring some of what I write into a live format. That event was well attended and when it wrapped up after 60 minutes, I was asked to make it longer next time and also focus on additional topics, like PILOTs. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of interest and engagement and started thinking about a wider lens to engage community.

3–Then in August and October, Jersey City experienced some of the largest school and city tax hikes in recent memory. Many taxpayers were taken by surprise and the community response reminded me of the 2018 revaluation process, where taxpayers seemed hungry for information. So I wrote a post in October 2022 that aimed to demystify the third and fourth quarter property tax hikes in Jersey City. I’ve heard from community members that the tax math and public data that I laid out in that post was helpful.

And so what I’ve been reflecting on since the latter part of 2022 is: what if more people could get engaged upfront, before the taxes are decided?  My hope with this series is to both explore that question and create space to support more engagement. The series will be broken up into parts, sequenced in what I view as a logical progression through the budget season:

  • Part 1: The framework and timeline for local budgets and property tax
  • Part 2: The tax bill and what it’s pointing to
  • Part 3: The local levy as a connection between taxpayer and the local budget
  • Part 4: The tax base: assessed vs market value
  • Part 5: The tax rates as a lens into tax equity
  • Part 6: Special topics

We can create space to re-imagine how we approach this topic of property tax; we can dialog, analyze, and learn in community. So let’s pull back the curtain, identify and analyze the data that helps inform our fiscal landscape, and learn together.

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