NJ Towns to Compete in New Reality Show: “Ratable Wars”
With local budgets feeling the pinch of the recession, and the newly imposed two percent property tax cap looming, municipalities across the Garden State are struggling to make ends meet. A big part of that equation is attracting new ratables, properties that produce tax revenue for their host municipality. But with new commerce and retail development in a lull, competition among municipalities for any new ratables can be fierce. So fierce, in fact, that it’s spawned its own reality show.
Starting this fall on NJN, eight municipalities from across the state will compete for the ultimate prize: a 300,000-square-foot strip mall of “big box” stores, including Wal-Mart, Lowe’s and Bed, Bath and Beyond.
Guy Johnson, the show’s producer, explained the appeal: “Towns derive so much of their revenue from the property tax, anytime you can add a so called “clean ratable” that pays taxes and doesn’t require much in the way of services, it’s a win-win. That is, of course, unless you own a small business in the town, or have to deal with the traffic congestion or loss of open space caused by these projects. Then, it’s less of a win, I suppose, but that’s not really the focus of this show.”
Towns will compete in a variety of categories to try to lure the strip mall to their town, including a “Subsidy Sweepstakes”, in which the municipalities will try to outbid each other in offering lucrative deals to the developer, and a “Variance Race” to see which town can circumvent their zoning laws fastest to pave the way for the new development. To add extra incentive, the losing municipalities will be forced to host the new housing needed by the employees of the winning towns’ new big box store development.
With the comprehensive property tax reform needed to remedy the chase for ratables nowhere in sight in Trenton, Johnson is already thinking ahead to Season 2. “The first season has towns chasing ratables to bring in revenue, but in the second season, we really want to focus on the fight to exclude children, and, more importantly, the school costs they create. We’re tentatively calling it “The Drive for Over 55.”
“Ratable Wars” is scheduled to debut this fall on NJN (provided NJN is still operating this fall).