The 2012 municipal budget is one of trying to manage mandated increases against stagnant state aid and the multi-million dollar impact of tax appeals, officials said at the annual budget hearing last night.
Although Toms River Township Administrator Paul Shives said the directive from Mayor Thomas Kelaher was to keep services level, nevertheless, Toms River's tax payers will be paying more in taxes this year.
Toms River's tax rate would increase 2.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, resulting in about $79 more annually in tax payment.
| Check out our previous stories on the Toms River 2012 budget |
In previous years the Toms River budget was impacted by lost or level state aid, a mandated 2 percent cap, and rising pension costs. This year, Shives said, an enormous number of successful were added to the equation.
The amount of assessed value in Toms River went down, resulting in less tax revenue. Tax appeals that have decreased Toms River's assessed value by $780 million in the past 2 years, officials said. Shives said the township had to reimburse taxpayers more than $2.3 million.
Shives said whole neighborhoods will be reassessed because of the large number of successful appeals, and several hundred tax appeals are outstanding, which will further result in impact to the budget's tax revenue.
At the budget hearing last night, while approximately 30 residents and township officials attended, three residents asked about the budget. They questioned the tax appeal calculation, and asked about salary impact.
Shives said that for many residents who've underwent the tax appeals process, with a drop in property values those taxpayers would actually be paying a tax bill that's less than previous.
"This is the impact we're seeing," Shives said.
The tax levy is increasing mainly to cover the impact of tax appeals, officials said. Shives outlined a number of policies in place to keep spending in check.
The largest portion of the spending plan is salaries and benefits.
More than 40 percent of the salaries pays for public safety and public works positions, Shives said — positions for police officers and garbage collection. "This makes up 40 percent of the budget, as it should be," Shives said.
However, the police force is operating with fewer officers than normal due to a high number of retirements the past two years. The township has not filled all the vacancies created from the retirements, and the 2012 budget plans to fill only some of the police department vacancies, Shives said.
The business administrator added that the township managed to keep its spending on salaries level. This was due in part to renegotiating union contracts, and attrition as personnel retired or left. Furloughs are again in place for 2012.
"Absolutely there are contracts we have to honor, but thanks to the bargaining units and renegotiating the contracts, they are flat," Shives said. "The effect of that is huge...I don't know of any other town in Ocean County that is doing that."
Shives said he asked every department to look at its budget and slash spending.
"Line items are cut 10 percent," Shives said. "That means spending is at 2009 levels, because we froze spending at 2010."
While the Capital Improvement Fund is $400,000 less, the projects that dominate this year's spending are "absolutely necessary" bulkheading, street resurfacing and drainage improvements, Shives said.
"We can never really appropriate enough funds to resurfacing and draining but we do the best we can," Shives said.
The council emphasized that the budget and tax levy is seeing minimal growth.
"It's less than six percent over 2010 to 2012," Councilman George Whittman said. "I don't know where else you can find that."
Three residents who questioned the budget at the hearing asked if more transparency and less taxpayer impact with lower spending was possible.
Council members said spending is flat while still taking care of necessary projects.
The council is scheduled to vote on the budget at its next meeting, 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 8 in town hall.
The budget presentation and proposed budget is available on the township website, and is attached to this article as a .pdf file.