Tax hike on tap in budget

Increase in insurance and utility payments and new police station could result in a 7.4 percent increase in municipal taxes.

By: Matthew Kirdahy
   Increases in insurance and utility payments, the construction of a new police station and preservation of the Fischer, Simonson and E. Barclay properties are driving township spending up and could result in a 7.4 percent increase in municipal taxes.
   The Township Committee introduced a $9.5 million budget Monday that calls for a tax hike of 5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 73 cents. The rate includes the 3-cent open space tax approved by voters in the past.
   The proposed 2004 budget is 20.2 percent larger than the 2003 spending plan. Much of the spending increase comes from increased debt service payments on the Wright farms. However, the township received a $1.02 million grant from the state farmland preservation program, which it will use to pay off the balance on the bonds it used to fund the preservation of the Wright farms.
   Altogether, the township will be paying $2.4 million toward debt, up $1.07 million from 2003.
   A public hearing will be held March 22, at which the committee could adopt the spending plan. If approved, the owner of a house assessed at the township average of $215,000 would pay $1,569 in municipal taxes, as compared to $1,462 in 2003.
   The primary reasons for the proposed tax increase, according to Township Administrator Fred Carr, are increases in insurance payments, police salaries and utility costs, and a required 5 percent down payment on three proposed capital projects.
   The budget anticipates a $90,060 increase in insurance payments, from $535,000 in 2003 to $625,060 in 2004. Mr. Carr said the township is part of the county insurance pool and the county is raising rates.
   The township also will spend $613,800 on utilities, up $91,800 from the $522,000 budgeted in 2003.
   In addition, the township plans to spend $1.33 million on police officer salaries and wages, including the hiring of a new officer, up from the $1.24 million it budgeted in 2003. Mr. Carr said the police salary increase includes a 4 percent increase from last year plus overtime. He said the township is negotiating its contract with its officers and the salary figures could change.
   The township also has budgeted $611,200 for down payments on capital improvements. The township plans to borrow $2.17 million to buy the 53-acre Fischer property, $3.99 million to buy the development rights and preserve the 131-acre Simonson farm, $3.39 million to buy the 88-acre E. Barclay farm and $2.85 million to construct a new 16,000-square-foot police station. It also plans to borrow an additional $676,500 for other projects in 2004.
   Last year, the township set aside $370,000 as down payments on capital projects.
   The budget also calls for $65,000 to be paid to South Brunswick for sewers, a $61,000 increase in funding for public library (to $326,141) and an increase of $50,000 for affordable housing expenses (to $74,000). Mr. Carr said these costs are out of the township’s control.
   This year’s budget will use $2.6 million from its surplus account as revenue, up $95,000; $3.9 million in total property taxes and $659,000 in state aid.