Council introduces $36.7M spending plan

Howell budget shows 4.5-cent tax rate increase


Staff Writer

The Howell Township Council has set June 14 as the date for a final public hearing and adoption of the municipality’s $36.7 million budget for 2005.

The budget was introduced on May 17. An initial public hearing was expected to be held on May 25. The spending plan proposes the elimination of 25 municipal positions.

If the budget is adopted as proposed, the municipal tax rate will increase from 41 cents to 45.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. That means the owner of a home assessed at $200,000 will pay $910 in municipal taxes this year, up $90 from 2004. The owner of a home assessed at $300,000 will pay $1,365 in municipal taxes this year, up $135 from 2004. The owner of a home assessed at $400,000 will pay $1,820 in municipal taxes this year, up $180 from 2004.

The elimination of the 25 positions kept the tax increase at 4.5 cents. Leaving the jobs in the budget would have resulted in a 6-cent increase, according to municipal officials.

Howell property owners will be asked to pay $13.2 million in local taxes to support the budget this year.

According to information provided by municipal officials, the 2005 budget was prepared with $6.6 million in surplus being used to offset needed revenue. There is $15.2 million in miscellaneous revenue and $1.7 million for the receipt of delinquent taxes.

According to the budget, there are appropriations of $30 million for operating expenses, which includes salaries and wages; $349,000 for capital improvements; $1.8 million for debt service; and $4.5 million in the reserve for uncollected taxes.

In addition to the municipal taxes that property owners pay, Howell collects an additional tax of 2 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for the acquisition of open space. That costs the owner of a home assessed at $200,000 about $40 per year.

On the same night that they introduced the municipal budget, the mayor and council passed a resolution calling for a $1.33 million cut from the defeated 2005-05 school budget.

The Board of Education proposed a $98.6 million budget for the coming school year. Voters in April rejected the $60 million tax levy needed to support the spending plan.

The budget proposed by the board included an increase in the K-8 school tax rate of 7.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The $1.33 million cut will reduce the increase by 2.3 cents, resulting in a net tax rate increase of 5.2 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Anthony Toriello, a former school administrator who was hired by the council to audit the school budget and make recommendations to cut it, said the bulk of the budget is fixed, representing contracts and salaries.

Toriello said since the budget is 90 percent fixed, officials were left with 10 percent to “re-massage.”

“It’s hard to believe you can’t revisit [the budget] and reduce 2 percent more,” he said.

Toriello said his study of the board’s proposed budget for the 2005-06 school year showed there was $1.6 million not accounted for in the budget. He said when he asked about that amount he was told by school officials it was for future projects.

Toriello said given that answer, he suggested that $1.33 million be cut from the budget, leaving a contingency surplus that would not affect any set salaries, contracts, programs or services such as courtesy busing.

He said the cut could be made and still leave the school board $288,000 left over to “play with next year.”

“Everything could stay in place. Everything that is there today could stay,” he said.

The council unanimously adopted the resolution calling for the school board to cut the $1.33 million from next year’s budget.

Mayor Joseph M. DiBella commended Toriello’s work, calling him someone with “significant budget experience.”

While commending the hard work school board members put into their official duties, DiBella said, “If we want the township to do more with less, we have to hold the board of education to the same standard.”

School board finance committee Chairman Robert Antonaccio could not be reached for comment by press time Tuesday.