Fairness In Taxes is changing leadership but it is not changing its mission. Since its founding in 1988, FIT has served as the only watchdog in town for the taxpayers of Ocean City. It has monitored how your tax dollars have been spent by your municipal government and local school board.
By its very nature FIT will always be unpopular with anyone in government who does not want their conduct scrutinized. The mission of FIT is to search for the truth and to inform the public. That means it will also be unpopular with anyone in the public who does not want to hear the truth when it embarrasses someone they like. So if popularity is what you seek, FIT is not for you.
Since its founding, FIT has participated in numerous public workshops, council and board meetings. It has sponsored public meetings, candidates’ debates, and advocated for reforms that would distribute the local tax burden more fairly. Those who were the beneficiaries of unfair policies have fought us tooth and nail. It takes a lot of effort to overcome both the power of politicians and the apathy of the public. We have had more defeats than victories. But FIT only attracts people who don’t mind losing a fight if they believe they are right.
Time has been on our side. It took a while for public policy to catch up with us, but it has been gradually moving our way. For example, in the 1990s elected officials along with city employees paid zero for lavish health benefits provided by the taxpayers who also had to pay for ever-increasing costs of their own health plans. Today our municipal employees now contribute towards their health care and retirement plans. Fair-minded people no longer dispute the justice of this.
In 2006, under President David McGettigan’s leadership, FIT gathered enough petitions for a public referendum which, if passed, would have capped increases in property taxes and spending at the rate of inflation. Mayor Henry Knight’s administration sued FIT and we took the case all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Although the court ruled that this was not an issue that could be decided at the municipal level, Chris Christie was elected governor in 2009 and was able to achieve similar goals for municipalities at the state level.
Fairness has historically been at the heart of FIT. Early FIT presidents like Bill McCarthy, Ed Lydon, and Ray Jones advocated for alternative revenue sources from groups that enjoyed the benefits provided by property tax payers but shared none of the costs. For example, tourists who enjoy the safety provided by our police, fire, ambulance, have their trash collected, enjoy the use of our beaches, bay, boardwalk and roads, all which we pay to keep maintained, they argued should contribute towards those costs by paying a reasonable room tax or a tourism fee. They also argued it would be fairer if property flippers who benefited from the Ocean City real estate market to share some of our costs, and help invest in infrastructure for our future, by paying a reasonable real estate transfer tax.
And from our beginning those leaders argued that “taxation without representation” was unfair and therefore nonresident property owners should have the opportunity to vote for local representatives who decide how much they would be taxed and how those dollars would be spent. None of those ideas prevailed. But FIT still stands.
More recently, President Michael Hinchman directed our focus towards the need for better long term planning, professional cost-benefit analysis, and mismanagement issues. He has been fearless in his public disclosures and taken the personal attacks from those who have been embarrassed by them. Truth was his only defense.
I thank the hundreds of households who support us. We appreciate the notes of encouragement we have received. It makes all the criticisms that much lighter.
President of Fairness In Taxes