New Jersey lawmakers have approved the biggest part of Gov. Chris Christie’s so-called tool kit to help local governments control costs.Both houses of the Legislature Tuesday passed a measure to limit salary arbitration awards for police and firefighters to an average of 2 percent a year.New Jersey League of Municipalities Executive Director Bill Dressel said that will help reduce expenses. But he said it will still be difficult for towns to stay within a 2 percent cap on property tax increases that takes effect Jan. 1.”We still have energy costs that are dictated by state agencies that exceed 2 percent. In fact they come in an average of 6 percent,” said Dressel. “We still have the pension costs, the health benefit costs. We still have foreclosures that reduce the amount of dollars that come into the municipal coffers.”Gov. Chris Christie and legislative leaders say they’ll consider health care and pension reforms next year as part of their continuing effort to reduce government expenses.Assembly Budget Committee chairman Lou Greenwald says capping awards at an average of 2 percent will help local governments control costs. But he cautions it may not resolve residents’ concerns about high property tax bills.”While this is a positive step, there needs to be more about taking the sole burden of funding local governments off of property taxes,” Greenwald said. “That’s what 42 other states have done and that’s why they’re not facing the crushing blow of property taxes that New Jersey does.”Dressel said if state aid is cut again, towns will have to reduce services even more.
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