The Great Recession ended years ago, but New Jersey towns continue their battles to craft a balanced budget. Still recovering from the worst housing collapse since the Great Depression, mayors and local governing bodies attempt to provide as much as possible for as little as possible. They have been creatively crafting spending plans that must meet the needs of citizens, but also provide a climate for economic recovery. The two-percent property tax cap has made the budget planning process more difficult in some spots.

“I think New Jersey mayors and local governing body officials deserve a whole lot of credit for managing as well as they have,” said Bill Dressel, Executive Director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities. While pension and benefit reforms helped erase some local costs, Dressel said Governor Chris Christie and Trenton policymakers can still work together to enact other tools needed by local officials.

Dressel said plummeting real estate values have had a horrendous impact on towns’ revenues, primarily because of property tax appeals. He said property owners have had more successful appeals in the past several months than he’s seen in 40 years.

“Per our state constitution, the only revenue source that local governments have is property tax,” Dressel explained.

To balance the losses, towns have been placing everything on the budget chopping block — from holiday celebrations to payroll.

“Everything is on the table,” Dressel said. He noted that emergency services have seen a particularly large cut across the state.

Throughout the country, the belt-tightening has put towns on the brink of bankruptcy. Some went over the edge, recently including Stockton, California. Dressel said it would be highly unlikely for a New Jersey town to file for bankruptcy protection. He said New Jersey has more control than other states over how municipalities conduct themselves financially.