Mayor’s Message — The rise of Harrison Township

Mayor Louis Manzo talks population growth, economy of Harrison Township

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Harrison Township was the fastest growing town in the entire state. Prior to this unprecedented growth, the town’s population fluctuated, hitting an initial high of about 3,000 in 1870 after the Civil War. By the 1900 census, that number was cut in half and the 20th century saw our hometown emerge as a farming community with the number of residents increasing slowly from 1,800 by 1940, to 2,600 by 1970.

From 1980 to 2010, the population in Harrison Township increased almost four-fold, from 3,585 to 12,417, with most of that growth occurring between 1990 and 2007. At that point, the economic downturn slowed things considerably and the governing body was able to step back and evaluate the future build-out of our community. The master plan was adjusted and we used zoning tools to develop a blueprint for the future to avoid the undesirable effects of sprawl that we see across the state. We took steps to limit and cap our maximum population, as well as ensuring future housing and commercial development would meet our community standards and be geographically ideal.

Entering 2017, just over 13,000 people call Harrison Township home. A rebounding economy has brought a slight increase in new housing starts and multiple business/commercial projects seeking approvals. This presents a challenge for the individuals responsible for granting these approvals. We are careful not to fall victim to the “commercial ratable chase” that can lead to over-development and impact the quality of life for all residents. Our focus is on approving projects that complement and enhance our town and support the master plan.

Of course, everyone is sick and tired of the property tax situation in New Jersey, but we know that we cannot dramatically impact that on the local level. It was just announced that Harrison Township has the second lowest tax rate in the county. Though we are proud of that fact, only 15 percent of your property tax bill is dedicated to our town, so we continue to see our total tax bills rise. The reason for this is quite simple — the state. Any efforts to address this must start in Trenton, and specifically with the school funding formula and pension reform.

Trust that myself, and the committee, are a loud and constant voice in the ears of our legislative leadership on this issue. We are hopeful Trenton will take actions in 2018 and beyond to finally address what we continually call the property tax “emergency.” The future of our state as a viable place to live, work and raise a family depends on these reforms and we will continue to advocate for action.

Louis Manzo is the mayor of Harrison Township. He can be reached via email at lmanzo@harrisontwp.us and online at www.harrisontwp.us.