Report: UC ranks high in public safety

Summit, Cranford top list, but the cost of that safety may be too much for some residents

UNION COUNTY — Things are looking up for Union County. Not only were four towns recently ranked among the 50 safest communities in New Jersey, but according to other national statistics, it is among the top locations in the country for getting a job and a raise.

SafeWise, a national company that installs home alarm systems, named four towns in Union County as being among the 50 safest towns in New Jersey to live; however the data they used was from 2011, and not 2013 or even 2012.

This failed to show an accurate accounting of Cranford or Summit’s true crime impact profile, which should have included other types of non-violent crime, but these two towns were nonetheless ranked in the top 50 nationwide.

For example, in Cranford there were 275 total non-violent and violent crimes in the township in 2012, followed by 216 in 2013. In Summit there were 248 total violent and non-violent crimes in 2012, while in 2013 that number went up to 258.

However, while many people look at how safe a town is when considering a move, they also look carefully at the tax rate and whether that number will affect their final mortgage payment.

In 2011, the same year SafeWise used for their crime data information, Legal Services of New Jersey reported the average cost of living in Union County for 2011 was $70,483.

However, the cost of living in either Cranford or Summit might be out of reach for those in this income bracket.
According to information gathered from the New Jersey Department of Treasury, Division of Taxation, the average homeowner statewide paid $7,870.28 in property taxes for 2011.

New Jersey property taxes, which go specifically toward supporting the counties, towns and schools, actually stayed below the 2 percent mandated state cap, on average, during this time period.

The state cap was put in place to ensure a municipality’s budget does not increase by more than 2 percent. Eight municipalities in the county, including Cranford and Summit, actually saw local taxes increase by more than 3 percent.

In 2011 Cranford had a 3.6 percent increase in taxes, with the average homeowner paying $9,903 in overall taxes, while Summit paid the highest taxes at $16,050, or 3.4 percent increase over the previous year.

There was even better news from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They reported that from June 2012 to June 2013 employment increased in 334 of the largest U.S. counties, which also had the largest increase with a gain of 7 percent over the year.
An increase held true for Union County, where the bureau found the average weekly wage increased in Union County by 2.1 percent to $921 in the second quarter of 2013.

“Union County, New Jersey, had the largest over-the-year increase in average weekly wages with a gain of 8.1 percent,” the bureau reported, explaining that within the county there was an average weekly wage gain of $377, or 28.5 percent for professional and business services.

The bureau reported that Union County also had the “largest wage increase among the largest U.S. counties at 8.1 percent.”
Although it might be safer to live in certain towns, and Union County is experiencing good news when it comes to employment and increases in pay, the state did not fare as well when it came to fiscal health.

An analysis released last week by Mercatus Center at George Mason University ranked every state by four measures based on 2012 data. New Jersey ranked last in two and near the bottom in the remaining two.

The Garden State ranked 36th in cash solvency, which showed how easily a state can pay its short term debts. On the other hand, anyone looking to move to New Jersey might want to consider the state fared 39th in service-level solvency, which reflected how well services are provided to residents.

The state came in dead last for long-term solvency, which measured how the state is able to meet long term obligations such as pensions and infrastructure maintenance. These fiscal constraints are due in part to more than $25 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and $59 billion for health benefits that remain an albatross around the state’s neck.

As if that was not enough, New Jersey came in 50th for overall fiscal condition. Among the bottom five were Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and California.

On the best financial footing were Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming.

Despite this gloomy fiscal outlook, in November 2013, economist Charles Steindel reported New Jersey’s unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent in September and held that level through October. Even more encouraging was that the job count, or number of employees on the payrolls of employers, showed an increase of 7,700 jobs in September, but preliminary numbers for October showed a loss of 5,500 jobs.

Steindel said this back and forth pattern in monthly numbers has persisted since June but that was not unusual by any means. In 2012 when the final tally was taken, the job count was moving up “briskly.” He suspected this would be the case when the final numbers are tabulated for 2013.

“In any event, year-over-year figures show decent job growth and October marked the 26th straight month in which the number of jobs in the state was higher than the same month a year earlier,” the economist said.

Housing numbers are also “robust” in New Jersey. The New Jersey Association of Realtors reported sales of single-family homes increased sharply in 2013, compared to 2012, with prices starting to rise. Home permit data show the numbers granted through October have been higher than any full year since 2007.

Steindel, though, was cautious about jumping to any conclusions, suggesting the U.S. economy still has a great deal of “slack, or room to grow.”