Tax hike looming

Debt payments drive Cranbury budget

By: Jessica Beym
   Repayment of debt associated with the purchase and preservation of farmland and open space over the past three years could result in an 8.4 percent increase in municipal spending in 2006.
   The $12.5 million budget introduced by the Township Committee on Monday includes an increase of $972,000 in debt payments, a $211,400 increase in the cost of utilities, a $99,300 increase in the Police Department salaries and a$97,500 increase in mandatory funding for the public library.
   The budget, if approved, would increase the municipal tax rate by 8 cents to 85 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Under that rate, the owner of a home assessed at the township average of $225,000 would pay $1,912.50 in municipal taxes, a $180 increase from last year.
   The committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing in the meeting room of Town Hall on March 13 at 7 p.m.
   Of the total budget, the township plans to spend $4.9 million to help pay down the debt — $1.2 million for accumulated interest and $3.7 million for principal payments.
   Township Administrator Tom Witt said the money would go toward payments on the new $3.9 million police station and the money borrowed to preserve the E. Barclay and Simonson farms.
   The increase in debt payments is about equal to the total increase in the budget. The spending increase is being offset mostly by a $763,00 increase in the tax levy, with the total amount to be raised by taxes at $5.26 million.
   The township will use $2.31 million from the surplus as revenue, an increase of $117,00 from last year. The township is anticipating raising $126,000 from its hotel tax, $84,000 more than the township anticipated last year but about what it actually raised in 2005.
   It anticipates raising $443,900 from sewer service fees, an increase of $72,400 from what it anticipated last year, and $157,000 from interest on investments and deposits, an increase of $42,000 from the 2005 budget figure. For both budget lines, the township raised significantly more than it had anticipated last year.
   Aside from debt payments, other increases in spending are due to rising utility costs for fuel, gas and electric and the additional cost of paying for the police station utility bills. The township will pay nearly $800,000 for utilities this year, $211,00 more than last year. The township is budgeting $1.6 million for police salaries in 2006, an increase of $99,000. Mr. Witt said the increase is due to contractual pay raises and budgeted overtime.
   The township Planning Board is planning to spend $53,750 on a master plan consultant and another $51,600 for other costs associated with updating the Master Plan. The township is setting aside $202,200 for the Planning Board and $124,000 for Master Plan work.
   The budget also includes an increase in funding for the Cranbury Public Library to $462,865, up $97,500. The increase is mandated by the state based on the size of the township’s tax base.
   Several line items are being reduced in the proposed budget.
   The township administrator’s budget is being reduced $45,300 from $190,300 to $145,000 because of the consolidation of the administrator and Public Works director positions. Mr. Witt is serving in both positions, with $26,000 of his $110,000 salary being charged against the administrator’s budget. The township had budgeted $92,805 for the administrator position in 2005. Mr. Witt took over as the permanent administrator in December after serving on an interim basis since May.
   The township was also able to cut back on legal costs and other consultant fees since the planning for affordable housing is mostly complete. There is also no money set aside for capital fund improvement projects this year. Last year, the township allotted $250,000 for improvement projects, but placed $165,000 of that back into the capital fund balance this year.