Monday, January 10, 2011

Bergen Record supports Homelessness Trust Fund

The Bergen Record, Jan. 6, 2011

FEES have a bad reputation, and deservedly so. From user fees on gift cards to "convenience" fees for movie tickets, forking over money for no apparent reason is exasperating.
One fee, however, is worth every penny, and we urge all New Jersey counties to adopt it.
The County Homelessness Trust Fund Act, which went into effect in 2009, allows participating counties to put a $3 surcharge on basic transactions like recording mortgages, deeds and other documents with the county clerk. The money is used for homeless services the county has deemed necessary, including rental assistance vouchers, mental health counseling and rehabbing affordable housing.
Counties do not have to participate, but they should. Eight are already, including Bergen, Passaic, Hudson and Union. Bergen County has raised $255,556 since Feb. 1, 2010, when it started the program. Passaic County has raised $121,110 since Jan. 1, 2010. All from a fee that costs less than a grande latte or a roast beef sandwich.
Before counties can charge the $3, they must develop a plan for how the money can reduce homelessness and the need for emergency care, hospitalization, foster care and other social services within their borders. It encourages officials to take a comprehensive look at county services and figure out the problems that need fixing. A good exercise.
It is astonishing that some counties are opting not to take part. The county administrator in Essex said the fee "could have a chilling effect on the housing market, which, for us, is very critical." The director of Morris County's Department of Human Services said, "The freeholders are concerned about adding additional charges, particularly to real estate transactions." A Sussex County freeholder said, "People want to give on their own … they don't want the government to force them to do it. Taxpayers have had it with all these fees."
These are flimsy excuses. We can imagine no scenario in which a couple decide not to buy the $400,000 home of their dreams because they will have to pay an additional $3 to register the deed. Compared with all the other closing costs, it isn't even a blip. Nor do we hold much truck with the thought that taxpayers will see an extra three bucks as big government digging into their pockets.
Homelessness costs society. We pay for it one way or another, whether through higher health insurance rates to cover emergency room visits or higher taxes to cover jail costs. And it isn't just financial. We pay for it through the lost potential of homeless children with uneven schooling, the lost production of homeless workers who have to skip work and the lost security of a once-healthy neighborhood whose residents have been kicked out by the banks.
In the face of all that, skip the latte and pay the fee.

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