Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Aberdeen's Master Plan Needs a Rewrite

According to an old Irish saying, “Poverty is inherited. We get it from our children.” Children are, appropriately, our greatest expense. Over two-thirds of our property taxes are used to support the public schools at an average cost of $13,000 per pupil. Meanwhile, Aberdeen and Matawan encourage residential development to build the tax base. Here’s the rub: nearly each time a family with at least one child moves into our neighborhood, the town spends more money educating that family’s children than it receives in taxes.

The Irish also had some ideas about reducing the number of children. In “A Modest Proposal”, Jonathan Swift, an Irish cleric and satirist, suggested people could eat their children, solving both poverty and hunger. A hundred years later, Ireland rose the legal age for marriage to reduce the childbirth rate. It’s sadly in our town’s best interests to discourage families with children from moving in while, at the same time, creating a superb neighborhood and school system for our children.

Looking at Aberdeen Township’s master plan, it’s clear that the township wants to recruit as many families as possible. There are townhouses slated for Rt. 34 and apartment buildings being developed along Rt. 35. At an average of 0.7 children per family, the town will lose, after taxes and education costs, about $6,000 per family. If we consider that lower income families have higher birthrates (and are more likely to have learning issues), each family moving into these apartments and townhouses will likely the cost the taxpayer, on average, about $15,000 per year. Is this in our best interest?

Naturally, local businesses benefit from high-density residential areas. Traffic and air quality suffer. But why would anyone want to recruit families that would cost the town more than they contribute?

Yet, our political system encourages just this kind of thinking. Our elected town representatives get to talk about how they’ve increased tax revenue without increasing the tax rate. Our school board gets to preside over a growing student body and growing school system. Everyone’s happy except for the taxpayers who will see ever increasing bills to pay for other people’s kids.

What to do about it?

First, just as every major development is required to have an environmental impact study, so should every major development be required to have a property tax impact study that projects expected costs based on the number of occupants and their demographics. Just as toads and vermin are protected from harmful development, so should taxpayers.

Under New Jersey’s Fair Share Plan, each municipality is required to have its fair share of low/modest housing. This translates into creating, or setting aside, a number of affordable housing units equal to 12.5% of all new housing plus 4% of all new jobs.

As they say, the rich get richer and the poor get children. Young families in low-income housing will likely cost the town over $20,000 per year per family.

Aberdeen is already participating in a Regional Contribution Agreement with at least one other municipality. That means we can figuratively “buy” affordable housing units from neighboring areas. It’s expensive but well worth it. Even at $150,000 per unit, we’d be saving money. The law allows us to purchase up to half our allotted units. Presently, Aberdeen only buys a sixth of our allotments. We should maximize our purchases to the legal limit.

Of the remaining 50% affordable housing units, half can be set aside for age-restricted housing (i.e. retirement communities). We should maximize that as well since these units won’t be having any children.

That leaves only a quarter of the original number – about 3.3% of all new housing. If the town forgoes developing apartment buildings and townhouses, our required allotment of affordable housing would also be dramatically reduced.

Next, we need to encourage commercial development along the Rt. 35 corridor. Aberdeen already plans to develop over 2,000,000 sq. ft. of commercial space at the old Anchor Glass factory but much of this is slated to become retail space. Retail is a mistake. The best way to build the tax base is to attract companies that offer high-paying jobs. Given the proximity to the Garden State Parkway, the New Jersey Shore, and only ten minutes from the New Jersey Turnpike, we won’t have a problem attracting high-profile companies that, in turn, could attract other companies to move here.

We also have the space. There are huge tracts of open land in the Cliffwood section.

Office, medical, and research facilities would be ideal. They would add tax revenue, recruit highly educated people to the area, support our local businesses, and be hardly any burden to the town.

Another possibility is a local attraction that could divert some of the weekend traffic going to Sandy Hook, though this may create too much traffic.

One thing we must not do is create ghettoes in Aberdeen. The Township has already submitted plans for a development in Freneau that will be strictly low income and an assisted living residence on Church St. that will also be strictly low income.

Another plan in the works calls for the construction of 53 low income housing units by the Aberdeen-Matawan train station.

These plans must be scrapped. Creating concentrated areas of poverty will kill the surrounding neighborhoods. It’s especially outrageous that two of the projects would be built near Main St. Just when we should be trying to rehabilitate Main St., the town wants to use it as a dumping ground for New Jersey’s impoverished.

If we’re going to build Aberdeen and Matawan and reduce the tax burden, we need to severely restrict the construction of apartment buildings and townhouses and use every legal means available to reduce the number of non-age restricted low income housing. Our first priority goes to the people who already live here.
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