Long Beach Township — Long Beach Island property owners pay the lion’s share of taxes for the Southern Regional School District in Manahawkin, despite sending – this year – only 242 students versus Stafford Township’s 2,163 students. Long Beach Township Commissioner Joseph Lattanzi tendered a brief presentation at Monday’s township commission meeting to revisit the lopsided tax breakdown, which is determined by the state’s school funding formula.
According to Lattanzi, the township has 87 students in Southern. For the other towns, the numbers are: Ship Bottom, 53; Beach Haven, 43; Surf City, 37; Barnegat Light, 12; and Harvey Cedars, 10. Despite enrolling only 10 percent of the school population, said Lattanzi, LBI taxpayers shoulder 80 percent of the cost for the district.
Long Beach Township taxpayers alone, he pointed, out, currently pay $21,087,366 in taxes for the regional school district, or $240,988 per township student.
The North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School District website, at nhvweb.net, offers a clear explanation of school funding and taxes in New Jersey. As the site explains, the formula is not determined by school districts. “In New Jersey, boards of education have no taxing authority.
“The state’s philosophy is that each sending district funds its educational capital and operating expenses based on the property wealth of its member municipalities,” which means the tax formula is based on the equalized value of taxable property within each municipality in the district, the number of elementary school students in each municipality and the number of high school students in each municipality.
The state process includes, first, calculating equalized property values for each municipality each year. As the site points out, equalized property values, determined by the state, “are not the same as assessed property values, which are determined by a municipality. Voters often confuse these and incorrectly assume that assessed property values affect the tax allocation process among the municipalities. Assessed property values play no such role; therefore, a municipality’s reassessment of local property values has no impact on that municipality’s share of regional school tax levies.”
Then, elementary school enrollment and high school enrollment for each municipality is established, and the total student enrollment figures are used to determine the percentage of students in each municipality. “Each municipality’s percentage of the total high school students is multiplied by its state-determined equalized property valuations,” the site explains. “Each municipality’s adjusted equalized property valuations, as a percentage of the total adjusted equalized property valuations for all the municipalities, represent its percentage share of the annual regional high school tax levy.”
And, the big question: Can the tax formula be changed?
Boards of education on their own have no power to revise the regional school tax process. “Since 1993, however, state law does permit regional school districts to conduct elections that would allow voters to establish a new tax process (such as one based strictly on each municipality’s enrollment),” the site notes. “However, under state law, the voters of each municipality in a regional district must approve such a change, in addition to a general majority vote among all regional school district voters.”
Since that is unlikely to occur here – as taxpayers on Long Beach Island would probably be alone in voting for a change to the current school tax method – Long Beach Township is hoping to gain the support of all five of LBI’s other sending municipalities to fund a study on the tax formula. At this time, not all of the towns are on board, Lattanzi stated. He hopes Island taxpayers will encourage their friends and neighbors to emphasize the issue with their particular municipality, so that all six towns can unite to push this issue forward. Next steps could include discussions with SRSD or a lawsuit to attempt to change the funding formula for Southern Regional.
The next meeting of the Long Beach Township Board of Commissioners is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 7.
— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch