Students unite against S.O. tax
Village Liaisons is working to inform the student body about South Orange’s recently proposed per-student tax on Seton Hall. The student group is also seeking to arrange a joint session with village trustees and other student leadership groups to convey the opinions of Seton Hall students to the Village.
Village Liaisons is planning a town-hall meeting and letter writing campaign to New Jersey legislators so that student may make sure that their voices are heard.
Under New Jersey state law, academic institutions are considered non-profit organizations and, as a result, are tax exempt. Before South Orange may levy municipal services fees on students, the New Jersey legislature and governor must first partially repeal the tax exempt status granted to colleges and universities.
South Orange’s resolution cites the increasing costs of municipal services, including street lighting and road maintenance, as well as police, fire, and emergency medical services as its reasoning for the proposed taxes.
In an e-mail interview given to The Setonian on Sept. 16, 2009, Village President Doug Newman said that Seton Hall contributes substantially to the South Orange community, both financially and otherwise.
“Seton Hall currently makes voluntary, annual payments in lieu of taxes on a number of its off-campus properties, which are not used for academic purposes.” Newman said “It also pays considerable sewer and water fees for its properties.”
According to Newman, the university paid $659,636 for property taxes on its off-campus, non-academic properties as well as sewer and water fees.
The president of Village Liaisons, Jacie Jones, said that she believes South Orange plans to use the proposed tax revenue from students to help shore up the budget, prevent cuts and maintain the current levels of service.
“We’ve been to all sorts of meetings where they have been talking about huge cuts to the fire department and police department,” Jones said. “Obviously part of that is to think ‘students are using them too, so let’s make up the cuts by taxing them. The way I understood it was that it would be a fee per-student that the university collected in the form of a tuition increase, fee, or whatever it is. It would still be a transaction between the university and the community. The per-student phrasing is less than attractive.”
While some students told The Setonian last week that the Village should improve the level of service to students, to reduce muggings and assaults, before levying taxes on them, others such as junior Robert Hough, oppose the taxes all together.
“They’ve always treated us like crap because our school is exempt from taxes and yet owns a great deal of the town,” Hough said. “The Village wants to charge us for protecting us, which is ridiculous since the only time we need protection is when one of its citizens or neighbors rob us.”
Newman also pointed out other donations that Seton Hall contributes to the community.
“With respect to investments in the community, Seton Hall invested $1 million in SOPAC, payable in annual installments (with interest) over 20 years, and additionally supports SOPAC through rentals of its main stage venue for student performances,” Newman added. “It also contributes to SOPAC through the participation of Dennis Garbini and Gabriel Esteban on SOPAC’s Board of Governors, and through student volunteers and interns. Seton Hall donated $500,000 to the renovations of Underhill Field in Maplewood, which benefits Columbia H.S. students and the larger community, including Seton Hall athletes.”
Newman also said the university students play a vital role both as employees, volunteers, mentors, and a “significant customer base for South Orange businesses, including retail, professional, and commercial enterprises.”
Jones pointed out how the Village’s decision to act on the student tax resolution over Christmas break when student’s were away from campus damages the relationship the liaisons have been working to build with the community.
“We have student representatives at all of their meetings and, all of a sudden, when things are relevant to students, they are discussed when we aren’t around,” Jones said. “It’s disrespectful and a detriment to what we are trying to do.”
Brenden Higashi can be reached at brenden.higashi.student.shu.edu.