Cherry Hill-Merchantville merger exemplifies perils of N.J. consolidation

Letters to the Editor

July 17, 2011 — [Re: “If it’s broke, why not fix it?”, Remapping Debate’s article on New Jersey’s fragmented system of 556 municipal governments.]

Cherry Hill is one of the largest New Jersey communities, at 70,000 plus, and we have one of the largest school district populations at 11,000. Consolidation will not help us get tax relief. We have high property taxes relative to what our properties are worth because we do not receive our fair share of the income tax funds we send to Trenton.

As per our school funding formula calculations (the “uncapped aid” figures), we should be receiving at least $36 million in direct state aid to education. We will be receiving approximately $11 million. And though the governor has stated that the total amount of state direct school aid to education is what it was two years ago, we in Cherry Hill will be still be receiving significantly less than we did.

Consolidation with Merchantville will just make the direct state aid situation even worse. Merchantville’s school tax levy is less than 3 percent of Cherry Hill’s. Their per pupil tax levy is much less than Cherry Hill’s. Merchantville’s state aid per pupil is approximately $3,500 where Cherry Hill’s is less than $1,000.

So, if we were to consolidate (and of course the state would fund the combination district at Cherry Hill’s rate), the combined district would lose even more of its fair share of state aid. So the real issue for my community, Cherry Hill, is our not receving an equitable amount of  the funds we send to Trenton back to us in tax relief.

Courage to Connect” [an organization that seeks to educate the public about the impact of “Home Rule”] is not interested in helping us in Cherry Hill. We already meet their size requirements for what should be an “efficient community.” We in Cherry Hill are just being used, and the population of our community is just too large to band together and fight back.

If “Courage to Connect” helped us get our fair share of state funding, I would feel differently. If the state rewarded us in Cherry Hill by giving us our fair share of state aid to education I would feel differently.

From what I read on your website, your articles point out that things are not always what they appear. There are hidden agendas.

Well, guess what. My agenda is that our community stops being bled to death because relative to other communities in New Jersey we are not and have not been for years getting our fair share of the funds we send to Trenton back to us. (We are not the only ones.) The way the state has administered and modified the original SFRA [School Funding Reform Act] has made things worse, and SFRA was not fair to our community to begin with. And CEIFA [Comprehensive Education Improvement and Financing Act] was underfunded…

Consolidation with a community whose citizens have been similarly cheated will not bring a greater percentage of the funds we send to Trenton back to us. In fact, when Merchantville’s per pupil state aid is brought down to our level, it will make things worse.

Jeff Podowitz (Cherry Hill, New Jersey)


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