New Jersey’s average residential property tax bill in 2019 grew at the fastest rate in three years, approaching $9,000, although the increase remains lower than what had been common before the 2% cap instituted nearly a decade ago.

Data compiled by New Jersey 101.5 from county abstracts of ratables shows total property tax collections — for counties, municipalities, schools and special taxing districts — increased by $665 million to reach $30.4 billion last year. That’s an increase of 2.2%.

The average tax bill was up by 2.1%, or $186, reaching $8,953. That’s bigger than in 2018, when the average bill rose $77, or 0.9%, but that year’s tax data was skewed by property revaluations in Jersey City and Weehawken that more than doubled the growth of the state’s ratable base.

However, it’s also bigger than 2017 and underscores how even though property tax growth has been slowed, it’s still walloping taxpayers.

Department of Community Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said the property tax increase was among the lowest on record and well below historical five-year and 10-year averages.

“Also, on an inflation-adjusted basis, taxes have risen 0.07 percent,” Ryan said.

Gov. Phil Murphy, however, makes no such allowance for inflation when saying property taxes rose 19% across the eight years his predecessor, Gov. Chris Christie, was in office.

“Notably, more than half of New Jersey municipalities had average residential property tax decreases or increases under 2% in 2019, and ratables in the state also rose 2.1%, helping to offset the property tax increase,” Ryan said. “These data points demonstrate that municipalities in the state are controlling costs and exercising fiscal restraint.”

Over the last decade, the growth of the property tax levy averaged 2.3% a year, compared with an average of 5.7% in the 10 years before that. But that still added $6 billion to the annual tax levy, which was $24 billion in 2009.

The average residential tax bill went down in 54 of the state's 565 municipalities and increased by 2% or less in another 237. On the other side of spectrum, average bills went up by 4% or more in 75 municipalities, including a half-dozen double-digit hikes.

In his State of the State address, Murphy said his administration has restored over $500 million in formula-based school aid and that more aid can be provided if lawmakers would agree to hike income taxes on millionaires. He also there are now more money-saving shared-services agreements under consideration than ever before: 980 and growing.

“I think we can all agree: Our collective tax – task, rather, is to fix the gimmicks in Trenton and not raise property taxes that hit the middle class the hardest,” Murphy said.

Direct state aid to schools went up by $311 million this school year and $332 million last – but school taxes are nevertheless still growing faster than county or municipal taxes, up $717 million in two years. School taxes were up last year at the second-highest pace in the last decade.

Assemblyman John DiMaio, R-Warren, said that’s a result of how the school funding law was written.

“There was nothing in the bill that would force any of that money to go back to the property taxpayers,” DiMaio said. “And the local board of ed and superintendents, as is their nature, when you talk to them about maybe cutting the property tax rate on their own, they go, ‘Well, we can make new programs.’”

Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-Camden, said major structural changes are needed, noting lawmakers have tried to address the issue with a 2% property tax cap, pension and benefit reforms, arbitration reforms and shared services.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, said taxes can begin being lowered if the state would cap its own spending increases at 2 percent a year.

“The municipalities in our state work under a 2% cap. Why can we not do it at the state level?” Bramnick said.

“All intricate, important, difficult public policy. Yet no one’s property taxes have gone down,” said Greenwald, who supports convening a citizens’ convention to address property taxes.

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