Trenton mayor pushes state aid for revenue-starved capital city

BY Briana Vannozzi, Senior Correspondent |

After spending years as a renter, Chris Werner Robinson is planting roots in the capital city. The Trenton public school teacher is moving in to his newly purchased home in the historic Mill Hill neighborhood. But with property tax bills averaging $7,000 to $12,000, that burden isn’t exactly a draw for new residents.

“A lot of people don’t realize the taxes we pay here are the same they’re paying in Lawrence or Hopewell. Higher than parts of Hamilton and Ewing, literally, to live in Trenton,” Robinson said. “We’re willing to bear that, but at the same time some of the services are just not being provided. And I don’t think that’s of any blame on the city government or anything. I think they’re not in the position to be successful because of decisions made beyond them.”

“We believe that the capital city in and of itself should have an investment from all New Jersey taxpayers,” said Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora.

Gusciora, a former assemblyman, is backing a bill to reinstate the Capitol City Aid Program. It kicks in money from the state budget to offset all the tax-exempt, state-owned land in the city. It was cut during the Christie administration, instead placing Trenton into the Transitional Aid Program with a fraction of the funding.

“Over 50 percent of our property is tax exempt property, and one-third of our tax exempt property is of the state government itself. We also have county buildings, we have federal buildings and nonprofits and hospitals, so the city as the capital city always looks to the state to compensate us for that,” Gusciora said.

The legislation proposes $10 million annually in compensation. Bill sponsor Sen. Shirley Turner says Trenton needs the money to stay afloat.

“In addition to the cost of maintaining and repairing roads and building infrastructure, the city provides vital emergency and law enforcement services to the 20,000+ state employees who travel in and out of the city each day,” Turner said in a statement.

Even if the state approves the $10 million in aid, it still wouldn’t offset the amount of property tax revenue the city could collect if all of those state properties were no longer exempt. Still though, the mayor says it’s a good start.

“If the state paid dollar-for-dollar in property taxes, they would pay us about $45 million a year,” Gusciora said.

Werner Robinson feels the need for the funding every day at his public school job.

“Everyone is strapped. We are literally down to the bare bones in the city, in the schools and I see how that affects the children,” he said. “It’s not fair they’re being denied services because the city doesn’t have the money.”

“Whether it’s that particular bill, which my gut tells me would be a significant step toward that in the right direction, but whatever it might be, we’ve got to be a part of Trenton’s future,” said Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday.

The bill already passed out of Senate Budget Appropriations Committee and looks to have the governor’s support.