Shop Local Program Helps Businesses and Residents

By Brenda Flanagan

“I think it’s amazing. And I think that it’s great to support our town,” said Michelle Newell.

But homeowner Newell says it’s the property tax credit that she likes most about Union VIP cards. Cioffi’s pays 7.5 percent of a local resident’s dining tab as a credit toward their property tax bill, which can run a little high in Union.

“Mine’s almost like $10,000,” Newell said. So even if it’s a little bit off here, a little bit off there. That helps? “Yes, definitely,” she said.

“You know, everybody’s taxes are going up, and it was a nice program to entice them to shop in town. It helps everyone. It helps the community. It helps us,” said restaurant owner Joe Cioffi.

Cioffi and more than 50 other shop owners honor the Union VIP cards, which also benefit renters, who get an annual check for their savings. Participating businesses dot Stuyvesant Avenue and include apparel stores, even gas stations, according to the head of Union’s Special Improvement District.

“It helps grow that business. It helps keep that business and create job opportunities. So that money stays in town, that business flourishes, it grows, we generate more revenue because there’s more sales,” said Fatima Raymond.

Union Township rolled out the program a year ago in partnership with a company called Fincredit, which processes the transactions and directs the tax rewards back toward third quarter tax bills.

“You can definitely knock off $200 to $300 a year, for sure,” said Carmine de Falco, president and CEO of Fincredit.

Businesses can choose how big a percentage off they wish to contribute. Fincredit takes a cut.

“So if the merchant gives back 10 percent, we keep 25 percent of that. So we keep a percentage of the actual reward. That’s how we get paid,” de Falco said.

“It’s a win-win for everyone. So I just encourage all residents to shop locally,” Raymond said.

The program template’s called Shop Local and so far, it’s been implemented in 22 New Jersey towns, starting with Marlboro, where residents have saved $220,000 off their property taxes since 2012, the mayor says.

“I’m not only a proponent of it, I use it,” said Marlboro Mayor Jon Hornik. “I got to tell you, as a taxpayer in the township of Marlboro I get great pleasure in seeing a credit on my taxes. And recently I got a call from the city of Philadelphia to ask me what my thoughts were on the program and hopefully you’ll be seeing it in Philadelphia and cities like Newark soon.”

It is only open to the residents of a participating town. Which kind of bummed out this Rahway resident who was dining with Newell.

“I think it’s a great program. I wish my town had it,” said Danielle Evan.

Why? “Because it’s a great opportunity for homeowners and for local patrons of the businesses in this the town where you live,” Evan said.

Now, in Union, those tax credits are applied to your third quarter tax bill. And because they’ve only been participating for about a year, they don’t have a lot of statistics yet. But over in Marlboro, the mayor says they’ve got 4,000 families signed up for this program. And the businesses figured out that all together, it’s accounted for something like $3.8 million worth of business. That’s a lot of money. Think about it. It could’ve been spent in another town or even online. Instead, it’s going into the township businesses, so this is a program that everyone pretty much is calling a win-win.

RELATED: Union Township Mayor Talks Shop Local Program