Everybody loves pie. It's just a question of how big a piece you allow yourself.
For Collingswood taxpayers, their piece of the pie is about nine-sixteenths (57.53%) of their municipal budget this year that will be spent on public services—police, fire, public works, utilities and fuel, courts, recreation, salaries, supplies and such.
The remainder (42.47%) pays for debt service and medical benefits for borough employees. That seems to be a reasonable amount to spend actually providing services.
At least it did, until you look at what neighboring towns are spending.
- Haddon Township will spend a little more than three-quarters (78.03%) of their budget on public services this year, with the remainder going to service debt and provide employee medical benefits.
- Haddon Heights will also spend a little more than three-quarters (77.07%) of appropriations on public services.
- Haddonfield will spend about thirteen-sixteenths (81.01%).
- Audubon will spend just a little over three-quarters of their budget (75.97%) actually providing services.
All these numbers are dizzying, so the attached pie charts will help you to visualize everything.
It will be flippantly dismissed that this is a one-year aberration, but the facts are indicative of a trend. Municipal budgets on towns' websites don't go back to 2005—a long enough period to indicate a trend—so annual net municipal debt proves to be a roughly equal indicator.
Collingswood's net municipal debt (for 2012 it's $33,867,257) leads the pack in seven of the last eight years, with 2005 being the outlier. Net debt is $5 million or more higher every year, except for 2005 & 2009, than the next closest town, Haddon Township.
Haddonfield is a distant third, while Haddon Heights net municipal debt never crosses the $6 million threshold. Thrifty Audubon's net municipal debt never tops $5 million.
To more easily comprehend these numbers, the attached line graph is helpful. There is a line graph for school debt too, if you're interested.
To be fair, education is a large share of the local tax bill. The state website has property tax numbers through 2012 for all municipalities, which indicate that Collingswood's 2012 school tax was 45.75% of the total tax bill.
For education, Audubon spent 48.47% of the property tax; Haddon Township 54.75%; Haddon Heights 51.39%; and Haddonfield 54.81%.
If you're wondering, the 2012 municipal share of the property tax bill for each of these towns was: Audubon 26.90%; Collingswood 29.38%; Haddon Township 18.36%; Haddon Heights 22.33%; and Haddonfield 17.94%. There's a bar graph attached that makes sense of all these numbers.
In Collingswood, taxpayers spend over half of their municipal budget on providing public services.
It's just that all our neighbors afford themselves a much larger slice of their respective municipal budgets for actually providing municipal services. And they all deem it prudent to spend a bigger slice of their total tax pie on education than Collingswood does.
Could all our neighbors be wrong for taking a bigger piece of the pie for themselves and giving a smaller piece to be spent on debt and benefits?
That is highly unlikely.
Local town budgets may be found on their respective municipal websites. Municipal property tax information and fiscal reports: