REAPing the benefits; Tax credits pending for five towns who participate in North Hudson Regional Fire and
Residents of the five municipalities that make up the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue Squad are about to feel firsthand the positive effects of going to the regionalized program. Thanks to Gov. Christie Whitman's Regional Efficiency Development Incentive (REDI) Program, which offers state grants and loans to help in shared service programs, the five Hudson County municipalities, namely North Bergen, West New York, Union City, Weehawken and Guttenberg, will receive nearly $6 million in state funds that will be given back to homeowners in the form of a tax credit. Whitman's office released the terms of the funding, entitled the Regional Efficiency Aid Program (REAP), on Monday. Each town will receive the tax credits based on need and based on population, but the towns were eligible for the grants because of the success of the NHRFR regionalization. Gov. Whitman said that REAP is the first state aid program to apply the savings directly to individual tax bills. "Our message to towns and schools is clear," Whitman said. "The more you share in services, the more your taxpayers will save. With this program, local officials have the incentive to make the fundamental changes that will lead to long-term tax reform." The tax credit will be applied to property tax bills for each calendar year in which the shared services agreement is in effect. The NHRFR went into effect on Jan. 1, 1999. Property owners whose home is their principle place of residence and certain tenants are eligible for the REAP rebates. The five towns in northern Hudson County will receive a total of $6.2 million due to the regionalization effort. The grand total throughout the state stands at $16 million, so it's evident that Hudson County will receive almost 40 percent of the entire sum available through REAP. Because of its size and population, Union City will receive the largest total, more than $2.1 million. The windfall means that the average household in Union City will receive a tax credit of $343.45. North Bergen was next at $1.77 million and that will mean a tax credit of $163.67 per household in North Bergen. West New York will receive $1.3 million, which translates into a $258.41 per household tax credit. Weehawken will receive $545,000 and a tax credit of $201.82 and Guttenberg will receive $391,000 and a tax credit of $162.49 per average household. "That averages out to a 3.5 percent tax decrease," said Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, who also handles the administrative duties for the NHRFR. "This is a significant tax credit." Turner said that REAP is very similar to the NJ Saver program that Whitman initiated two years ago, which enabled homeowners to receive a rebate on their property taxes. "However, this now is a direct credit toward the tax bill," Turner said. "The average reduction in Weehawken will be around $202, some more, some less. But all the municipalities within the regional are receiving significant tax credits." Turner said that the tax credits will appear on upcoming tax bills in August and November in Weehawken. Similar tax credits will appear in the other four municipalities. Turner said that the five towns all knew that they were eligible to receive REAP money, but he had no idea what the final amount would be. "We never expected $6 million," Turner said. "That's very rare. Honestly, it was almost shocking. It's very rare when a taxpayer receives this kind of reward. I think we were all taken off-guard by the amount. "But as long as we remain as part of the regionalization, we stand to get the same money," Turner said. "It took a while for us to get recognized. We have the most significant regionalization program in the state and this is the first reward. And I'm pleased that we're able to see a tax benefit for our residents. It really makes a significant impact and shows that the regionalization truly works."