By Amber Cox
Most students don’t worry about paying local taxes until they graduate, but Lawrence Township might change that.
At the council meeting on Tuesday, March 2, the township considered a resolution calling for a state law that would allow any town to impose “municipal service fees” on college, university and boarding school students.
President Mordechai Rozanski lost no time in persuading the council to table the resolution indefinitely.
Under the plan, full-time students would pay an extra $100 and part-time students an extra $50 a year. This would apply to all students going to the Lawrenceville campus, resident or commuter. Westminster students would not be affected since Princeton Borough has no such proposal.
Rozanski explained that Rider is a “significant financial contributor and economic asset for the township” and that taxing “Rider students directly, or the university indirectly by means of a service fee, will have a serious negative impact on both. Much like the township, our students and the university are enduring the financial hardships of the current economy.”
In November 2009, nearly 100 mayors at the New Jersey League of Municipalities annual convention supported the resolution that would impose a fee. The group is currently seeking a sponsor to draft a bill to be considered by the Legislature in 2010. South Orange, home of Seton Hall University, passed the resolution in December.
New Jersey isn’t the only state with towns looking at fees on students. Providence, R.I., and Pittsburgh considered fees last year but agreed instead to accept increased voluntary payments from their local colleges.
Tax-exempt property in many towns means “residents are unfairly shouldering the burden of higher taxes,” the resolution said.
But Rozanski told the council, “Placing a tax burden on our students, who are our successor generation will only cause ripple effects without slowing the fundamental challenges we face.”
He also argued that Rider is an “economic engine for the local economy, and contributes more than its fair share in direct and indirect payments, and has a positive impact on local businesses.”
Rider, he said, has contributed to the community in the following ways:
– Rider spent almost $470,000 in fiscal year 2009 alone, in the form of taxes, various fees for services and pass-throughs for services received, and donations in lieu of taxes to Lawrence agencies and foundations.
– Rider hosts the July Fourth fireworks for the township, is an active member of Sustainable Lawrence, and serves as the emergency evacuation site for all Lawrence Township schools.
– Rider students have donated 30,000 hours of voluntary service to community agencies and organizations in Lawrenceville and the region.
– Rider agreed to be part of Lawrence’s 2010 Census, increasing Lawrence’s population and contributing to the township’s eligibility for additional government funding.
– Rider employs 150 Lawrence residents who pay an estimated $1 million in property taxes to the township.
– 178 Rider students live in Lawrence and are already paying direct or indirect property taxes.
– Rider purchased more than $625,000 in goods and services from Lawrence vendors in fiscal 2009 and more than $10 million from Mercer County vendors.
Senior Kelly Dissinger thinks it would be “a crime to tax students who have to pay so much money to go to school at Rider.”
“Isn’t it enough to be emptying out our wallets to try and ensure a successful future?” she asked. “At the rate we’re going, with the yearly hike in tuition and lack of jobs for college students, no one will be able to be successful because they will be paying off student loans until it’s almost time to retire, and now the township wants us to be in even more debt? I think the whole thing is shady and rotten.”
Sophomore David Spadora agrees with Dissinger and thinks that Lawrence needs to “cut the student community a break” because they are “paying” their “dues.”
“College is a business, just like any other, and I don’t feel we should be taxed simply because we’re an educational community based around pursuing a higher degree,” Spadora said.
Sophomore Stephanie Toplinski said she is unable to “wrap her head” around the issue.
“Honestly, the township is just trying to raise revenue, which is understandable, but to attack students is just unfair,” she said. “Tuition is high enough and a tax will anger many Rider students.”
Junior James Howe says he would understand if the resolution were to go through but if it does, “it will be an excellent indicator of how Lawrence views the presence of our school.”
“Depending on the outcome of this, it may be necessary for Rider to re-evaluate its relationship with the town and its residents,” said Howe.