Would you try a new pizza place if the meal paid off some of your property taxes?
Some Cape May County businesses think so, and they're considering a program that lets them give tax rebates to local customers.
New Jersey towns such as Marlboro and Bayonne already are capitalizing on residents' hatred for the state's high property taxes in a business promotion that takes a small percentage of a local purchase and applies it to customers' annual tax bills.
Now Middle Township and West Cape May are considering the promotion as well.
"It is a rewards program. The difference is the businesses are giving back property-tax credits," said Carmine DeFalco, spokesman for Fincredit Inc., of Hamilton Township, Mercer County.
The company administers the program, distributing the rewards cards to residents, installing the credit software at local businesses and advertising the program in participating towns.
Fincredit charges businesses a fee of $10 per month to participate and towns a flat $1 fee for each rewards card that towns distribute to taxpayers. DeFalco said the $1 fee is typically subsidized by a local bank or business that advertises its logo on the cards.
Fincredit's novel promotion generated a lot of buzz at the annual New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City in November.
"We believe we'll be in the county by the end of the year," he said. "It is about choices. You don't always have a coupon in your hands all the time. We have found when you talk about property taxes, people prefer to have the tax credits over the discounts at the counter. Sometimes it's psychological."
Theoretically, residents could spend their way out of an annual property tax bill. And if towns offered reciprocity agreements, residents could reap tax savings while traveling.
"It's a really excellent program. I saved $400 on my property taxes last year," said Donna Schone, who participates as both a Marlboro resident and a Marlboro business owner.
Her dog-grooming business, Groomer Has It, offers local customers an 8 percent tax credit on the store's services, which include a soothing bubblebath for dogs with itchy skin.
"You'd be surprised by how all those little things you normally buy in town do add up," she said.
Each business decides in advance how big or small a tax credit to offer customers. The discounts then are advertised on a website and promotions are sponsored by participating businesses.
Schone settled on a tax credit of 8 percent because that is the discount she traditionally offers through her advertised coupons. She does not permit local customers to double-dip. Perhaps surprisingly, most choose the tax rebate over the discount at the register, she said.
In Marlboro, businesses offer a discount as low as 2 percent or as high as 16 percent. Residents get a shopper card they can swipe at participating businesses.
Schone said the accounting system is automated and makes it easy for her to track results at the end of the year.
"It's a good promotion," she said.
West Cape May created a business task force last year to examine ways of improving business in this town of 1,024 people. The task force so far has liked the idea of the tax rebates.
Borough Council will consider the incentive plan this month.
"What it comes down to is if there's enough public interest and businesses are willing," Mayor Pam Kaithern said.
The program could have more impact if neighboring towns such as Cape May and Cape May Point join and their business community agrees to share tax benefits with the region's customers, Kaithern said.
Middle Township recently considered Fincredit's program for township businesses. The Township Committee was noncommittal after getting a lukewarm response to the idea, Committeeman Dan Lockwood said.
"We didn't have a groundswell of support for it," he said. "Some people wondered if it was government getting involved where it shouldn't be. It's on the back burner."
But some businesses think the novelty of the promotion could stir interest. New Jersey's property taxes routinely rank among the nation's highest.
"I think it would be really positive," said Bruce Doherty, owner of Hale Bicycles in Middle Township. "It keeps more cash in the community. It gets people to shop locally."
Doherty said he could see offering as much as 10 percent rebate for a purchase. He thinks his neighbors might see real value in putting $50 from a $500 bicycle toward their yearly taxes.
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