Bid to sell liquor license comes up dry

Mayor was counting on the sale of the liquor license to shave 2 cents off the municipal tax rate.

By: Gwen Runkle
   WEST WINDSOR — Zero, zip, nada.
   That’s how many bids came in Wednesday on the sale of a liquor license by the township, throwing a sizable monkey-wrench into the township’s budget plans.
   When Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh unveiled a proposed $25.4 million budget in February, he was counting on the sale of the liquor license to shave 2 cents off the municipal tax rate, keeping the increase to 7 cents.
   But now, just what the tax rate will be is up in the air.
   "We’ve been thrown another curveball," Mayor Hsueh said. "We’ll have to review the whole budget again. I was prepared for the worst, but didn’t expect this result."
   With the liquor license sale revenue included, the proposed budget calls for a tax rate of 47 cents per $100 of assessed property value. With that rate, the owner of a home assessed at the township average of $250,000 would pay $1,175 in municipal taxes.
   The mayor said he will look into whether it would be feasible to rebid the consumption liquor license, but has no definite plans on how to proceed.
   "Maybe the price we were asking was not realistic, too high given the economic situation," he added. "But it was no more than what the last liquor license sold for."
   According to the township clerk, the last liquor license sold was a distribution license to Wegmans grocery store. It sold for $565,000.
   How the failure to sell the license affects the Township Council’s introduction of the budget is also uncertain.
   Council President Alison Miller had tentatively set introduction for May 13.
   "Now we’ll have to wait and see," she said.
   Since February, the Township Council has been trying to find ways to reduce the tax rate.
   According to Councilman Charles Morgan, the council was able to knock 2 cents off the proposed tax rate, mainly through salary and wage cuts and by using open-space tax money for maintenance of open space. That 2-cent decrease plus the 2 cents anticipated from the liquor license sale would have cut the tax increase to 5 cents. But now the council is left facing a 7-cent municipal tax increase.
   However, other members of council believe another 2 cents could be found with two ordinances up for their consideration on Monday.
   The first is a hodgepodge of fee hikes, which most notably increases sewer connection fees.
   Instead of residents paying a flat $1,000 sewer connection fee per dwelling unit, under the new ordinance they would pay 75 cents per square foot of their home along with a minimum $1,000 fee.
   Non-residential property owners would pay 75 cents per square foot of building space with a minimum fee of $2,500.
   The second ordinance would increase sewer user fees.
   Currently, a portion of the municipal tax revenue is forwarded to the Stony Brook Regional Sewerage Authority to pay off the authority’s bonded indebtedness.
   On top of that, those who use the sewer system pay a sewer tax twice a year based on flow, which according to Ms. Miller is considered the sewer user fee.
   The ordinance would shift payment of the sewer debt to people who actually use the sewer system instead of everyone in the township footing the bill through the municipal tax. Those on septic systems would not pay.
   The council is currently split over the second ordinance, with Councilwoman Jackie Alberts and Ms. Miller in support and Councilwoman Kristin Appelget and Mr. Morgan opposed. Councilwoman Rae Roeder could not be reached for comment.