Municipal tax increase expected in Sayreville

Residents could see hikes of $186, $122 in boro, school taxes


Staff Writer

Sayreville officials are reviewing a municipal budget that would bring residents an average tax increase of $186.

The 2007 budget, introduced last week by the Borough Council, stands at $47.8 million, up $3.3 million from last year. Though it calls for raising the municipal tax rate from 80.4 cents to 93.4 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, the budget is still subject to cuts that could reduce the tax hike.

Councilman Rory Zach, who is chairman of the council’s finance committee, told the Suburban that revenues are not keeping up with rising expenses.

“With the [budget] process, I am fairly pleased,” Zach said. “The finance committee worked very hard to lower the budget to this point. When we started with all of the initial requests of all of the departments, we were at a 23-cent [tax] increase, and we lowered it to 13 cents.”

The Board of Education adopted a tentative budget for 2007-08 with a $122 tax increase on the average household, assessed at $143,100. The school and municipal budgets are separate components of a homeowner’s property tax bill.

While the school budget will be adopted and voted on during the April 17 school election, the municipal budget is a long way from being adopted.

State aid for the municipal budget may not be known until July, according to borough Chief Financial Officer Wayne Kronowski, and the budget would be adopted soon after that number is released.

State aid of $238,000 was anticipated in this tentative budget, Kronowski said, adding that the borough is applying for additional extraordinary aid.

“It is part of the Legislature’s bill, which they passed trying to curtail [municipal] tax increases,” Kronowski said.

The largest increase in the budget is for salaries, which increased by $1.1 million, or 6.1 percent, over last year.

“After that, it is pension contributions,” Kronowski said, “which amounts to an increase of $716,000 in pension increases.”

Debt service increased $220,000, and the borough is also paying the Middlesex County Utilities Authority $428,000 for water treatment.

An initial budget totaled $1 million more than the current package, Kronowski said, noting that officials cut out departmental requests for additional employees and kept operating expenses at last year’s level.

“It is a tight budget,” Kronowski said.

What the council does with the capital budget one year impacts it the next, Zach said, adding that the finance committee tried to keep debt service steady by paying off projects over several years.

“What helps you on the capital side is spreading out debt service on the bonds,” Zach said. The capital budget funds improvements to roads, parks, and water and sewer improvements.

No new positions are proposed in the budget, Zach said, noting that the public works and police departments had requested additional positions.

“We just can’t afford to do it this year,” Zach said.

Republican Mayor Kennedy O’Brien told the Suburban he asked the council earlier this year to consider a hiring freeze on permanent employees and permanent part-time employees in light of the large tax increase, but that it was not received well by the all-Democratic council. The hiring freeze would stop spending unless a vacancy arises in a position that is of imminent importance for public safety, such as a first responder, O’Brien said.

Zach disagreed with the hiring freeze idea, saying that any vacancy needs to be evaluated.

“I don’t feel comfortable making a blanket statement to not fill vacancies, because some of the departments cannot operate with a vacancy,” Zach said. “So if any vacancy occurs, you have to look at each one as an individual and see if it needs to be filled.”

Last year, the council asked the department heads to cut 5 percent from their budgets.

“Most of them were able to do [that],” Zach said, “so we kept this year’s operating budget at last year’s level.”

O’Brien said he believes the council will still look for areas to cut.

“As public officials, we must all bear in mind that government programs are paid for by real people, many of whom who are on fixed incomes,” O’Brien said. “I’m pleased that there are members of the council who are still committed to finding places to cut.”

Zach confirmed that the council is still working to find reductions.

“We are still fine-tuning it and we hope to be able to lower the increase more,” Zach said. “We will do our best.”

O’Brien addressed the criticism that a freeze in taxes two years ago has caused taxes to go up this year.

“That is just plain bizarre,” he said. “If we raised taxes two years ago, they would just be even higher now.”

Zach disagreed with O’Brien’s assertion.

“A zero tax increase,” he said, “you are going to pay for that in the long run.”