Rapidly Growing Group of Unhappy Taxpayers Eyes Reform
A group of Fair Lawn residents is hoping to make a push for elected officials to rethink the way they fund government and public education.
What began last week as a tax conversation among friends during a post-op surgery visit has, just days later, transformed into a local movement with an action plan, goals and a Facebook group that already boasts more than 220 members.
This week alone, the "Unhappy Taxpayers of Fair Lawn NJ," have met face-to-face with the mayor, borough manager and tax assessor; packed a council work session to pepper elected officials with questions; and pored through swaths of tax and budgetary data publicly available online.
The group is holding a meeting Thursday night to discuss its next course of action: engaging the Board of Education and crafting a petition to the state asking it to audit the board.
"Our goal is to make the Council and Board Of Education accept the new reality – the weak economy is here to stay for years," group leader Sergey Karpov wrote in an email. "They cannot sustain budgets by raising taxes on financially struggling population and businesses. There is no growth to offset negative effects from taxes. They must find a way to bring down cost by all possible means."
Other than engaging the board and petitioning the state, Karpov said the group also plans to stump for any cost-conscious school board candidates running in the upcoming November election and work with the council on a borough survey being mailed out to residents.
He said he fears that if Fair Lawn doesn't shed its new reputation of being "the most taxed town around," it risks undermining the the borough's economy and business community.
"Such fame alone will bring down property values and chase out businesses," he said. "During weak economy, [they] increase tax rate to support inflated budgets. During strong economy [they] inflate budgets to justify bigger tax revenue from raising properties. [They] are successive Fair Lawn administrations and Boards of Education who saw our taxes go up at least 100% over the last 10 years."
Karpov, like many of the group's founding core, is a member of Fair Lawn's burgeoning Russian community who are now learning the intricacies of American municipal government on the fly. He came to America with his wife, Kate, 16 years ago and settled in Fair Lawn a dozen years ago.
Borough manager Tom Metzler, who met with the group on Monday, said he understood the group's frustrations and appreciated its concerns.
“Any time residents engage with their government and their elected officials, I think that’s a good thing," he said. "When people can sit down and are willing to really understand the process. That’s a good thing.”
Metzler said he thought members of the group asked great questions that allowed him and other borough officials who attended the gathering to explain certain initiatives that the borough had already undertaken to reduce costs.
"It gave us an opportunity to make them aware of some of the things that they were not aware of," he said. "That doesn’t mean we all held hands and sang Kumbayah when we got done. They still have issues, but I think they realize that some of that frustration has to be vented to other agencies. We collect taxes for the board of education, we collect taxes for the county, it all gets added up together in that tax bill that you get.”
The group's plan to engage the board of education begins in earnest next Thursday when its members plan to attend the board's July 19 public meeting and speak with superintendent Bruce Watson.