Hello, my name is Martin and I’m a taxaholic. And after a long, shameful spiral I hit rock-bottom and became a Montclair Tax Refugee (MTR).
Let me confess my sorry tale, in the hope it will bring comfort to other recovering taxaholics and MTRs.
Like so many Montclair stories, mine begins in Park Slope, Brooklyn. We managed with one child in a renovated brownstone in that hip section of New York City, but when my son came along, life became unmanageable, the stairs became an obstacle course, and the suburbs beckoned. We town shopped, and Montclair won, hands down. Here we were, a writer and a psychologist, with a 4-year-old and 6-month old, moving from Brooklyn to Montclair. We saw ourselves as pioneers. Little did we know were a walking cliché.
Our daughter started at Nishuane (after a search
comparable to choosing a heart surgeon)
We fell in love with a house on Inwood Avenue, built in 1906, with a wraparound porch and an oversized backyard. Property taxes were $4,000 a year. By the closing a month or so later, they were $5,000. I still don’t know how.
On our first morning as Montclair taxpayers, we woke to find a ticket on our car for parking overnight in front of the house we had just bought. Who knew? (And in the 25 years since, I’ve still never gotten a credible explanation for that ordinance.) Our daughter started at Nishuane (after a search comparable to choosing a heart surgeon), our son at the Montclair Co-op. Property taxes inched to $7,000.
Centuries from now, archaeologists will dig up
lacrosse balls in the vicinity of Inwood Avenue
and ponder them, as archaeologists today
dig up bits of pottery and stone tools.
But these were good years. I was introduced to the bizarre suburban ritual of adult-led sports: soccer, field hockey, baseball, and what became my son’s passion, lacrosse, along with strange acronyms at Montclair High such as SVPA and CGI. My daughter had a party when she graduated the high school, which included the requisite visit from the police (who were very polite). We still don’t know which neighbor ratted us out. Later, my son and other MHS varsity teammates turned the yard into a practice lacrosse field, launching balls hither and yon. (Centuries from now, archaeologists will dig up lacrosse balls in the vicinity of Inwood and Norwood and ponder them, much as archaeologists today dig up bits of pottery and stone tools. They will debate — doctoral dissertations will explore this — the origin of the strange English word “MOUNTIES.”)
I learned never to call Upper Montclair Upper Montclair.
Property taxes crept to $10,000. Services were cut, like the “set-out, set-back” trash collection and library hours. The free all-day pre-K, a reason we chose the town, was eliminated.
Yet despite my gripes, life in Montclair was dreamlike: I was never sure how much of it was real: a woman in Michigan who liked my Montclair-set novel My Wife’s Last Lover wrote to say how imaginative I was to have created the lovely fictional town of “Montclair.” I thanked her.
Taxes hit $12,000 a year.
Our kids each went off to college. Every morning I would walk down the stairs past four empty bedrooms that I was heating and cooling and keeping clean and paying property taxes on. The word “downsize” became a familiar one in marital discussions.
Taxes closed in on $15, 000.
We would be closer to Montclair’s restaurant row,
the museum, our auto mechanic and our synagogue.
What more does one need in life?
We couldn’t leave the town we loved, where we had raised our kids. Then this: if you don’t have children in the schools, what difference does it make if you’re on Highland and Bloomfield or Sunset and Bloomfield? Or Alexander before or after it crosses into Bloomfield? Taxes aside, the same house just costs less a town or two over.
So — I admit with voice shaking — we widened our search to outside Montclair. Taxes, meanwhile, raced past $16,000 a year, and were widely expected to keep rising (which they did).
Soon we found a small but lovely house one town over, right near Verona Park, a mile from the Montclair Art Museum. We would be closer to Montclair’s restaurant row, the art museum, our auto mechanic, and our synagogue. What more does one need in life?
So we left Montclair.
I still post on the Montclair Watercooler, and reserve my right to complain about Montclair taxes (even though I don’t pay them) and the schools (even though I don’t have kids in them). I still say “Montclair” when asked where I live (rationalizing that no one’s heard of Verona and avoiding complex questions of identity). We are in lovely Verona Park almost every day, and less than a mile from Eagle Rock Reservation. We often walk to Church Street, which offers live outdoor music on summer nights with tables bustling with folks sipping wine and chatting like a European city, ironically connecting more with Montclair’s downtown that when we lived “uptown.”
And so I publicly confess my sins. We voted with our feet. The system made us do it. Please don’t hate me.
– Published in The Montclair Times