EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Local taxes may be forcing Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough out of his long-time home, but not out of the township.
“I think that we have a wonderful town, and I have no plans of moving out of the township, regardless,” McCullough said.
McCullough made national news last week after he told The Press of Atlantic City his tax bill meant he would sell his house in the township’s Seaview Harbor section on the causeway between Longport and Somers Point. Last year’s revaluation and this year’s tax rates pushed his property taxes up nearly 60 percent to $31,056.
“It’s more than what I can afford,” McCullough, 71, said last week. “It’s kind of disappointing. I thought I would be able to live and die in my home, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s gotten up so high.”
Dozens of news outlets picked up an Associated Press summary of the story, and then the calls started.
“I was getting calls from New Orleans and California,” McCullough said. “I got calls from Fox in New York City.”
Commenters bemoaned the state’s property tax bills, which averaged $7,885 in 2012. The New York Post editorialized on Monday: “It’s a sad day when taxes price any man out his own home. But when that man’s home is in New Jersey, what did you expect?”
Gov. Chris Christie said McCullough’s decision showed how the state still needs to work on its property tax burden. The state typically ranks at the bottom of property tax surveys nationally.
McCullough said he does not qualify for the state Senior Freeze property tax reimbursement program, which is designed to shield the most vulnerable seniors from steep property tax increases. State requirements limit the program to people who earned less than $80,000 in 2011 and $70,000 in 2012.
For McCullough, the proposed sale of his home has been a painful reminder of how local governments pay for services. New Jersey property taxes are high, in part because local governments depend on them because they cannot directly levy other taxes, such as corporate taxes or local sales or income taxes, that are options available elsewhere.
“I’ve been saying this for years. Property taxes are the unfairest taxes of all the taxes,” McCullough said. People can avoid a sales tax if they don’t buy something, McCullough said, and “if you make a lot of money you are going to pay a lot in income taxes.”
“It’s not the ability to make money,” McCullough said of property taxes. “You have a nice home and all of a sudden you can’t afford your home.”
McCullough’s tax bill showed that he is on track to pay about $20,016 in local school taxes, almost one-third more than the Egg Harbor Township School District reported it spent per-pupil in the 2010-11 school year, the most recent available figures.
“I’m not criticizing my school system,” McCullough said. “I think we have a great school system. My criticism is the way it’s taxed.”
McCullough emphasized he has no plans to leave the township he moved to in 1974, even though he and his wife bought a North Palm Beach, Fla., condominium last year. Property taxes there are less than one-tenth his current property tax bill
Instead, he said, he recently made an offer on a property in West Atlantic City, but the owner turned the offer down.
McCullough moved into his current home, built for $360,000, in 1985. Last year’s reassessment said that home is worth slightly more than $1.1 million.
The mayor also has no plans to leave office, even though he will be 73 when his term ends in 2015. He has been on the governing body since 1986, serving as mayor for all but six years.
“If the township people want me, and the Republican Party wants me, and I’m in good health, I would consider running again,” McCullough said. “If the people of Egg Harbor Township don’t want me anymore, there’s a simple way to get rid of me — vote me out.”
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