In compiling New Jersey Monthly’s 2013 Top 100 Towns list, researchers at Leflein Associates, an independent research firm based in Ringwood, considered five categories to represent the quality of life in New Jersey’s 566 municipalities: home values, property taxes, crime rate, school performance and a lifestyle factor (explained below).
Due to a lack of statistically significant data, towns with a population under 1,500 were dropped from the survey. The research team ranked each of the remaining 514 towns based on the following indicators: average residential tax bill (2012); change in average property tax bill (2010-2012); effective property tax rate for 2012; median home sales price (2012); change in median home sales price (2010-2012); total crime rate (2011) combined with a score for violent crime rate (2011); student proficiency on state-mandated standardized tests for students in grades 4, 8 and 11 (2012); and a lifestyle factor that considers the number of acute-care hospitals and live performing-arts theaters within 10 miles of the municipality’s main zip code, number of full-service restaurants within two miles of the municipality’s main zip code, and average commute time for those working away from home. The final rankings were based on each municipality’s combined rankings for 10 indicators across the five categories. Extra weighting was given to the following indicators: change in average tax bill; change in median home sales price; and results on standardized tests for students in grades 4 and 8.
The following sources were used: U.S. Census (for population figures); NJ Division of Taxation (for property taxes); NJ Division of Taxation/Office of Property Administration (for home sales prices); NJ Division of State Police (Uniform Crime Report); NJ Department of Education (School Report Card); NJ Hospital Association (hospital locations); NJ Council for the Arts and NJ Theater Alliance (theater locations); Yelp.com searches (restaurant locations); and the U.S. Census/American Community Survey (commute times). The annual crime rate and violent crime rate are based on reported crimes per 1,000 residents.
A variety of indicators were considered for the three lifestyle rankings as follows:
Young Families: Based on the overall indicators plus one additional variable for the percentage of households with children under 18. Towns with median home prices of $500,000 or more were excluded.
Singles: Based on crime data; number of restaurants and bars; percentage of residential structures with 20-plus units; percentage of residences that are rentals; and percentage of adults who are young singles (20 to 34 and never married). Extra weighting was given to the crime rate; number of bars; and percentage of young singles. Municipalities classified as rural by the NJ Department of Community Affairs; municipalities with high crime rates; and municipalities with fewer than 1,500 residents who are young singles were excluded.
Empty Nesters: Based on average residential tax bill; crime data; number of acute-care hospitals, live performing-arts theaters and full-service restaurants; percentage of population age 55-plus; number of 55-plus communities; and percentage of housing structures with 20-plus units. Extra weighting was given to the crime rate; percentage of 55-plus population; and number of 55-plus communities. Rural municipalities were excluded.