$200K in aid makes small dent in tax hike

Council to adopt budget with 15-cent tax rate increase


Staff Writer

The state aid awarded to East Brunswick last week will reduce this year’s municipal tax hike by a penny.

The 2007 municipal budget is expected to carry a tax rate increase of 15 cents, instead of 16. This means the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 will pay $150 more in municipal taxes this year.

The 1-cent reduction is the result of the township receiving $200,000 in state extraordinary aid. It had requested $800,000 this year.

The Township Council is set to adopt the final budget Monday night.

Mayor William Neary said it is up to the council to make recommendations as to whether to cut the budget in order to trim the increase. However, Councilman David Stahl said that for the most part, it is too late in the year to make cuts.

Despite the tax hike, Neary said the $62 million budget is bare-bones and amounts to an increase of only 3.5 percent in spending from last year. He said the increase is due to state-mandated expenses, contractual obligations and the increasing costs of necessary services.

Stahl has been the only council members to speak out against the budget, saying he is worried about the township’s long-term financial forecast. He has voted against all the temporary appropriations made this year, as well as the capital budget.

With tax ratable growth slow or nonexistent, the township dependent on revenue from Toll Brothers’ purchase of the Golden Triangle redevelopment area, and debts that need to be paid off, Stahl said he fears the township is setting itself up for major problems in the future.

With this budget year more than half over, Stahl said he wants the council to begin getting information on next year’s operating budget.

“Even in the beginning of 2007 we still heard from the administration that they were still preparing the 2007 budget,” he said. “I’d now like to see a discussion of the 2008 operating budget. I don’t want to wait until later.”

Neary said the council had multiple budget workshops on this year’s budget, and has had ample time to make suggestions.

Stahl said the council could only make recommendations on budget cuts during those workshops. If a council consensus did emerge as to what reductions to make, the administration would likely respect it and not spend the money, he said. But no consensus emerged, and with the workshops occurring in the late spring, it was too late in the year to make a difference, he said.

Stahl added that Township Business Administrator James White has a list of comments and suggested cuts that were discussed during those workshops, and that he expects White to present a report to council.

Neary said he does not believe any major cuts can be made because the budget is already as lean as possible.

“The instruction given to our various departments was, ‘No increase in services or expenses over last year’ and to look at each and every expenditure for possible cuts,” the mayor said during his budget address in April. “Therefore, the budget … maintains the status quo and in many areas is reduced.”

The municipal tax rate, which would rise to $1.40 per $100 of assessed valuation, is one component of a homeowner’s property tax bill, which also includes school, county and fire district taxes. East Brunswick residents approved a 2007-08 school budget in April that carries a 37-cent increase in the school tax rate.