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TAX TRAUMA MADE EASY

Here’s a tool that the folks who packed Red Bank Borough Hall over taxes last week will want to spend some time with. Actually, anyone who pays property taxes ought to take a look at it.

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Data maven Robert Gebeloff of the Star-Ledger has revived and upgraded an interactive tool that he debuted in 2002. It enables users to calculate their “tax trauma,” a score that takes into account average property tax bills, home values and homeowner incomes.

It also allows users to slice and dice data so many ways their heads may spin. The numbers are not likely to make too many users happy about their relative tax burdens, but in terms of putting things in perspective, the Ledger has done a real public service.

Among Monmouth County towns, Red Bank is squarely in the middle of the pack, traumawise, just as Mayor Ed McKenna argued last week when confronted by homeowners upset over rising property tax bills.

In fact, if anybody should be carrying lighted torches to council meetings, it should be homeowners in Shrewsbury and Little Silver, where the trauma scores are among the hightest in this corner of the county.

But going by the percent of average income that gets sucked out by taxes, Red Bank doesn’t look so good. It ranks ninth out of 53 Monmouth towns, with 6.52 percent of the average homeowner’s income going to property taxes.

Changes over time are also evident. One chart shows that while Red Bank’s overall tax levy has risen 36.3 percent since 2000, the load carried by homeowners has jumped 44 percent. And the residential bill in that period is up more than 39 percent.

One really helpful aspect of the Ledger’s system is that it shows where each town ranks among the 521 New Jersey towns with 500 or more homeowners. For example, the increase in the average residential Red Bank tax bill from 2000 ranked 181st statewide, with 1 being the highest. Whether that’s too high or acceptable depends on how it hits your wallet, perhaps.

The newspaper also has a nifty tool that allows a user to plug in his or her own address (or someone else’s, for that matter), plus a yearly income figure, to come up with a “personal tax trauma rating.”

The online calculator accompanies an Ledger article today that says New Jersey has leapt to first in the nation among housing costs.

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From that story, based on newly released Census data:

“The Great Housing Boom that marked the first half of this decade didn’t just drive up home prices — it changed the way New Jersey families spend their money.

The Garden State now leads the nation in home ownership costs, and the number of residents devoting more than 30 percent of their income toward mortgages, property taxes and insurance is soaring, according to the new figures.

It now costs the typical homeowner $1,938 per month to own a house in New Jersey, well ahead of California and Massachusetts, which were second and third, and far ahead of Hawaii, the most expensive home-ownership states at the beginning of the decade, the new figures show.

And those are just median costs. One in six Jersey homeowners now pay more than $3,000 a month, compared with one in 14 just five years ago.

“We’re very rich, but what these figures suggest is we’re not really as wealthy as we think we are,” said James Hughes, dean of the Bloustein School of Public Policy and Planning at Rutgers University.

While the typical New Jersey household earns 27 percent more than the national average, homeowners pay nearly 50 percent more to keep a roof over their heads, the new numbers show.”

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