Atlantic County?s Republican legislative team today unveiled a four-point plan to assure an adequate and fair distribution of state aid to local education, provide property tax relief, and give special attention to the unique needs of the county?s three growth zone communities.
State Sen. James ?Sonny? McCullough and his Assembly running mates, Vince Polistina and John Amodeo, said their plan ?represents a broad, across the board effort to take on what is arguably the most difficult and critical issue facing the state today.?
The elements of the Republican plan are as follows:
? Devising a new and more equitable formula to distribute state aid to public education.
? Lift the five-year-old freeze on state aid.
? Permit the growth zone communities of Egg Harbor, Galloway and Hamilton townships to implement timed growth policies to regulate new development.
? Give the growth zone municipalities the flexibility to determine for themselves how revenue from developers? impact fees should be allocated.
?The compelling need for a fair and equitable state aid formula is acknowledged by all,? the Republicans said. ?Under the existing formula, five per cent of the state?s school districts receive 57 per cent of the total state aid. The current formula is a mish-mash of short term solutions in response to court rulings and political pressures and has become so grossly unfair that the only solution is to abolish it and start fresh.?
?The five-year-long freeze on state aid has created an enormous hardship on school districts whose taxpayers have been forced to pick up the entire added cost of public education caused by rising enrollments, the need for additional facilities and the additional teachers required to staff them,? the three said. ?Lifting the freeze will require additional funding at the state level, funding which can be provided by implementing the $2 billion in budget cuts which have been proposed but which the Democrats in control have refused to consider.?
The candidates said that any new funding formula must recognize and address the unique problems faced by Egg Harbor, Galloway and Hamilton townships, communities which have been forced by the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Act to accept substantial new development with no mechanism to help offset the additional costs of providing municipal and school district services.
?Allowing these communities to enact so-called timed growth policies will enable them to control the pace of new development, to plan into the future, and to greatly ease the financial impact brought on by unrestrained development,? they sad. ?Local officials are by far in the best position to determine how fast or how large their communities grow, based on what their tax bases can support. A timed growth program will allow them to do that.?
?Greater flexibility in determining the allocation of developers? impact fees will again give the governing bodies in the growth zone communities the ability to allocate resources where they are most desperately needed,? the Republicans said. ?These fees are currently restricted to use for recreation programs but by permitting the revenue to be directed to other more pressing needs will be of great benefit in helping to control local property taxes.?
?It is unfortunate that so little of significance has been accomplished by the Legislature to address the unique situations in the growth zone communities as well as to face up to the need to fund public education fairly and efficiently,? the Republicans said. ?The program we have presented will require hard choices and difficult decisions — but making those choices and reaching those decisions are precisely what has been missing. The time to act is now.?