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How property taxes rip you off

Bergen_county_court-House _theridgewoodblog

What would you say if you found out New Jersey taxes just went up $540 million? Surprise! They have. And they will grow by a half-billion dollars each year because of the state’s highest-in-the-nation property tax — even with the 2 percent cap. State and local leaders have run away from cutting this burden on homeowners. Why? Who profits from your tax misery? Why is this tax driving people out of state? Paul D’Ambrosio, Asbury Park Press Read more

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Former State Assemblyman Schroeder May Be Tried On Theft Charges In March


by Carol Reif 09/28/201

SOMERSET, N.J. — Former state Assemblyman Robert Schroeder of Washington Township, who is accused of writing millions in bad checks, may go on trial in March 2016, according to a report in NJ Advance Media.

Schroeder, a Republican from Bergen County, appeared in court Friday, Sept. 25, for a status conference, NJ Advance Media reported. He is due back in court for another conference on Dec. 11, the report said.

The 55-year-old served in the 39th Legislative District for two terms. The district now includes parts of Bergen and Passaic counties, the media outlet reported.

According to NJ Advance Media, Schroeder has been charged with stealing close to $1.9 million from people who loaned him money for his private businesses and also with writing more than $3.4 million in bad checks. He also faces misconduct charges, the report said.

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State agency waived $104K owed by United Airlines after early exit from Atlantic City

PJ in Atlantic City

PJ in Atlantic City 

Meanwhile NJ Taxpayers can not even get New Jersey Division of Taxation to respond to a phone call ?

When United Airlines abruptly cancelled service out of Atlantic City last year after only eight months, the airline was on the hook to repay $104,000 in public subsidies provided in exchange for a promise to run flights to the struggling casino town for at least one year. Shawn Boburg, The Record Read more

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N.J. residents must push for budget-crisis solution


Two things are clear. One, the state’s worst problem, by far, is a growing budget shortfall that leaves it unable to fund the outsized pension promises made by politicians. Two, elected leaders won’t even start trying to address that problem until residents make them do so by demanding proposals, voicing their preferences and voting for those taking action. The Press of Atlantic City Read more

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Governor Christie Takes Action To Prepare Public Safety Measures In Advance Of Papal Visit

Vatican Pope Youths

Friday, September 18, 2015

Executive Order Builds On Ongoing Preparation Efforts & Ensures Officials Have All Tools To Ensure A Safe And Orderly Visit

Trenton, NJ – With an estimated 2 million visitors expected to gather in Philadelphia for the upcoming World Meeting of Families and Papal visit, Governor Chris Christie today signed an Executive Order that puts in place measures to manage the occasion, coordinate any requests for mutual assistance with neighboring governments, and ensure a safe and orderly visit for New Jersey residents and many thousands of visitors expected to travel through New Jersey for the occasion. In effect, the Governor’s Order provides emergency management, law enforcement, county and local officials with the tools needed for a secure and orderly visit of His Holiness Pope Francis.

“Given the Pope’s comprehensive schedule and the influx of people traveling to see him, the events associated with his visit span the normal State, county and municipal operating services,” said Governor Christie. “Managing this historic event requires the coordinated deployment of personnel and other resources to ensure the health, safety and resources of the citizens of New Jersey.”

The order, which will remain in effect until Tuesday September 29, 2015 at 8:00 a.m., provides officials with the authority to accommodate mutual aid requests as well as contraflow of traffic on roadways and, consistent with the deployment of the National Guard in Philadelphia, authorizes use of the New Jersey National Guard to support events as needed.

According to Philadelphia officials, it is estimated that as many as 2 million people will attend the World Meeting of Families and Papal Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. With tens of thousands of visitors travelling through the southwest region of New Jersey to access Philadelphia, gridlock on roadways within a 50-mile radius around the City is anticipated. In addition, as many as 250,000 additional vehicles and thousands of buses will be travelling through New Jersey into Philadelphia.

New Jersey officials already have put transportation plans in place:

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Dead last: NJ debt hits $52,300 per taxpayer, study shows


By Mark Lagerkvist  /   September 17, 2015

New Jersey ranks worst in the country for state debt, according to a new nationwide study.

Each state taxpayer would need to pay $52,300 to erase New Jersey’s existing bills — including public pensions and retiree health benefits — reports Truth in Accounting, a think tank in Chicago.

Among “sinkhole states,” New Jersey was followed by Connecticut, $48,600 debt burden per taxpayer; Illinois, $45,000; Kentucky, $32,600; and Massachusetts, $27,400.

In the past year, the debt per taxpayer in New Jersey increased by $16,300, or 45 percent, according to the nonprofit.

The findings are consistent with a New Jersey Watchdog analysis of State Treasury records that found the Garden State’s pension and health benefit deficit for public workers is nearing $200 billion.

Earlier this week, New Jersey Watchdog reported:

New Jersey’s public pensions are underfunded by $113.1 billion. The state bears $80.5 billion of that burden. Local governments are responsible for the remaining $32.6 billion.
State and local governments are also on the hook for $81.4 billion in unfunded health benefits for retired and active workers. The state owes $65 billion; the local share is $16.4 billion.
The total shortfall is $194.5 billion – more than $60,000 per household. The figure is nearly six times higher than New Jersey’s total annual budget, currently $33.8 billion.

At the present pace, those unfunded liabilities will exceed $210 billion next year.

In its report, Truth in Accounting reported states have a combined total of $1.3 trillion in debt despite balanced budget requirements in 49 states.

The lack of truthful, timely and transparent financial information is increasing cynicism and mistrust and it is a risk for our representative form of government,” said Shelia Weinberg, CEO of Truth in Accounting. “Citizens do not have the information need to hold their politician accountable, much less cast an informed vote.”

The full study is scheduled for release next week.

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Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino Top “Double Dipper”

Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino

Three-fourths of NJ sheriffs double-dip, led by 25-year ‘retiree’

By Mark Lagerkvist  /   August 30, 2015  /   6 Comments

For the past quarter century, Armando Fontoura has been looting a New Jersey state pension fund. But it won’t do any good to call the cops.

Fontoura is sheriff of Essex County. A dean among double-dippers, he draws $207,289 a year from public coffers – $144,896 in salary plus $62,393 from pension as a retiree of his own office.

Today is the 25th anniversary of Fontoura’s faux retirement. So far, he has collected $1.35 million in retirement cash without ever giving up his full-time county paycheck

On Friday, Aug. 31, 1990, Fontoura retired as county undersheriff at age 47. The following Monday, he returned to work at Essex County with the same salary and duties, but a different title – sheriff’s officer chief. One year later, he took charge as sheriff, a post he’s held ever since.

“Does it look bad? Yes,” admitted Fontoura. “No question about it, it looks bad. Was it legal? Yes.”

Worse for taxpayers, three-fourths of New Jersey’s county sheriffs – plus hundreds of other public officials – are taking advantage of pension loopholes to collect dual incomes.

A continuing New Jersey Watchdog investigation found the sheriffs in 16 of the state’s 21 counties are double-dippers. In addition, the sheriffs also employ 37 undersheriffs who returned to work after retiring as local, county or state law enforcement officials at relatively young ages.

In total, the 53 officers collect nearly $10 million a year from public coffers – $5.7 million in salaries plus $4.1 million in retirement pay – according to payroll and pension records.

By order of annual incomes, the double-dipping posse includes:

Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino (R), $267,987 – $138,000 salary + $129,987 pension as an Emerson Borough police retiree
Passaic County Sheriff Richard H. Berdnik (D), $253,957 – $151,887 salary + $102,070 pension as a Clifton police retiree
Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy (R), $231,315 – $107,250 salary + $124,065 pension as a Toms River Township police retiree
Mercer County Sheriff John Kemler (D), $227,330 – $142,499 salary + $84,831 pension as a Mercer County sheriff’s office retiree
Camden County Sheriff Charles J. Billingham (D), $219,232 – $144,753 salary + $74,479 pension as a Washington Township police retiree
Somerset County Sheriff Frank J. Provenzano (R), $208,576 – $132,555 salary + $76,021 pension as Bridgewater Township police retiree
Warren County Sheriff David P. Gallant (R), $208,432 – $125,945 salary + $82,487 pension as a State Police retiree
Morris County Sheriff Edward V. Rochford (R), $200,838 – $139,203 salary + $61,545 pension as a Morris Township police retiree
Middlesex County Sheriff Mildred S. Scott (D), $200,796 – $139,455 salary + $61,341 pension as a retiree of the Middlesex County sheriff’s office
Hunterdon County Sheriff Frederick W. Brown (R), $197,796 – $115,868 salary + $81,928 pension as a retiree of Raritan Township police
Salem County Sheriff Charles M. Miller, $195,452 (R) – $119,386 salary + $76,066 pension as a retiree of the Salem County prosecutor’s office
Gloucester County Sheriff Carmel M. Morina (D), $191,996 – $128,547 salary + $63,449 pension as a Greenwich Township police retiree
Sussex County Sheriff Michael Strada (R), $170,124 – $121,212 salary + $46,973 pension as Mount Olive Township police retiree
Cumberland County Sheriff Robert Austino (D), $166,938 – $107,250 salary + $59,688 pension as a Vineland police retiree
Cape May County Sheriff Gary Schaffer (R), $161,654 – $107,500 salary + $54,154 pension as an Ocean City police retiree.

Click here for the complete list of sheriffs and undersheriffs who collect pensions plus salaries.

New Jersey Watchdog began tracking double-dipping by sheriffs in 2011. The initial report found 16 sheriffs and 28 undersheriffs collecting a total of $8 million a year – $3.25 million from pensions plus $4.75 million in salaries.

Four years later, the tally has increased by nine undersheriffs and $1.8 million a year in total pay.

The investigative news site has also reported extensively on double-dipping by state legislators, administration officials, school superintendents, state police and the staffs of the attorney general and county prosecutors.

RELATED: ‘Seven deadly sins’ of New Jersey pensions

The millions being drained from retirement funds through double-dipping epitomize the woes of a pension system that faces $170 billion in underfunding – a point noted earlier this year by Gov. Christie’s blue-ribbon, bi-partisan Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission.

“It has great symbolic importance…as the double-dippers have become the ‘face’ of a dysfunctional public pension system,” the study concluded, citing New Jersey Watchdog’s reporting. “For this reason, the task force should consider ways to further limit this practice.”

Yet Gov. Chris Christie and the State Legislature have done little to halt the abuses that have profited well-connected Democrats and Republicans over the years.

One of the bigger beneficiaries is Sen. Fred Madden, D-Washington, a triple-dipper who receives nearly a quarter-million dollars a year – $85,272 from his state police pension, $113,810 as dean of law and justice of Rowan College at Gloucester County and $49,000 as a part-time state legislator.

“Obviously I don’t have a problem with people doing it,” Madden said in an interview with New Jersey Watchdog three years ago. “I’ve accepted that in my own personal life. I don’t have a problem with it at all.”

A bill co-sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Red Bank, would stop most double-dipping. It would suspend pension payments to retirees who return to public jobs paying more than $15,000 a year. The retirement benefits would resume when they permanently leave public employment.

“The pension system is intended to support you at a time you are no longer working,” said Beck. “So when you are an active employee, you should not be able to tap into both.”

The reform proposal has gone nowhere since it was first introduced in 2011 by Beck and Sen. Steven Oroho, R-Sparta. Its current incarnations – S-883 and A-114 – are trapped in legislative committees, unable to get enough support to reach the Senate or Assembly floors for votes.

RELATED: 18 double-dipping lawmakers block pension reform

Meanwhile, Fontoura is a heavy favorite to win re-election as sheriff in a Democratic stronghold that includes Newark. A victory would enable him to continue his double-dipping ways in Essex County for at least three more years.

“I retired, I collect my pension, and I am your sheriff,” Fontoura told NBC 4 New York, which partnered with New Jersey Watchdog for a report in 2012.

County personnel records show the retiring and rehiring of Fontoura had been plotted in advance. Then-sheriff Thomas D’Alessio approved the move on Aug. 7, 1990, more than three weeks before the switch.

“I said, as long as I can do this legally without breaking any law – and I can collect my pension and augment it with a salary — that’s fine, I will do this,” Fontoura recalled.

The sheriff’s office did not respond to a new request from New Jersey Watchdog for additional comment

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Changes in NJ car-seat law take effect Tuesday

car seat

AUGUST 31, 2015    LAST UPDATED: MONDAY, AUGUST 31, 2015, 8:52 AM

North Jersey parents have always looked forward to a child’s first birthday. Not only is it a great milestone and cause for celebration, it was the point where the law allowed car seats to be flipped from rear-facing to forward-facing. As of Tuesday, that changes.

New Jersey law is falling in line with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations, which have said that children should remain rear-facing until at least 2 years old or weighing more than 30 pounds.

“The science and studies are quite clear,” said Howard Mazin, an Englewood Hospital and Medical Center attending pediatrician, who has always urged his patients to keep their children rear-facing until age 2. “I know all parents want what’s safest for their kids.”

The other big change in the law is that kids should be in a booster seat until age 8 or 57 inches. Previously it was until 8 or 80 pounds. Children younger than 4 years old or under 40 pounds must be in a seat with a five-point harness (ideally rear-facing until hitting the limits set by the seat manufacturer) not a booster seat using the regular seat belt. The fines have also been raised from a minimum of $10 and maximum of $25 to a minimum of $50 and maximum of $75.