Proposal to cut tax rate by penny with surplus disputed in WW

By Greg Forester, Staff Writer
   WEST WINDSOR — Significant disagreement exists among township officials over the possible use of additional municipal surplus funds to reduce a potential 3.57-cent tax increase faced by township residents.
   The proposal calls for a reduction of the tax increase by one cent, resulting in around $45 worth of savings for the average homeowner. If passed, the average total increase would be $198.
   Supporters, including Township Council member Charles Morgan, say the administration could use about $600,000 of the available $4.2 million in municipal surplus to bring down the tax rate, or make cuts elsewhere in the budget.
   He said that the current budget process — involving line item review and dialogue with administration officials — was largely a futile process. If any one item ran out during the course of the year, administration officials would simply ask for a transfer of money, or additional funds, to fill the gap, according to Mr. Morgan.
   ”The only way to really contain the budget is to take a penny out,” said Mr. Morgan, who proposed the idea Monday. “It imposes a real constraint. They can either take it out of surplus or then can take it out of the line item budgets they want to take it out of.”
   By forcing either major cuts or use of the surplus, the end result would be the same for the taxpayer, Mr. Morgan said.
   Administration officials under Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh — including Business Administrator Christopher Marion and Chief Financial Officer Joanne Louth — are opposed to the idea.
   They cited the gloomy economic climate, reduced municipal revenues, and the possibility of additional cuts in state aid, all as reasons why it would be more prudent to hold the line on the current amount of surplus used in the budget — $3.3 million — rather than inject another $600,000 or so to bring the tax rate down by a cent.
   Using that surplus, they said, could result in problems for the township down the road.
   ”We hear about surrounding communities having problems, and we want to keep to our long-term financial plan,” said Ms. Louth. “We don’t want to make a decision this year, and cause a decision in a future year whereby we would have to cut a service.”
   Mr. Marion said that the township’s financial situation was the result of specific issues, including state aid cuts and uncontrollable increases in pensions and contractual obligations.
   ”This is already a tight budget,” said Mr. Marion. “In this economic environment it is not a year to be aggressive.”
   Councilwoman Linda Geeversalso opposes using surplus now, noting that the current economic downturn could continue.