Borough’s taxes go up as state aid goes down

Nancy Martin Mayor Nancy Martin Mayor HELMETTA — The Borough Council last week adopted a 2008 municipal budget that absorbs the loss of more than $62,000 in state aid.

The aid loss and other factors brought about a 1.8-cent increase in the municipal tax rate, or about $44 for the owner of the average borough home, assessed at $273,182.

Last year, the borough received with extraordinary aid a total of $345,886 from the state; this year that was reduced to $283,429, according to figures provided by Mayor Nancy Martin.

“This is a substantial cut, and our major concern is what will the state do next year, since it seems to be the goal of Gov. Corzine to wipe away smallmunicipalities,” Martin said. “We are still very disappointed in Gov. Corzine’s actions and do not look forward to what he has in store for 2009.”

Money was saved in the municipal budget for 2008 because the borough no longer has a business administrator on the payroll. Bill Schmeling, who had been the town’s part-time business administrator for several years, left recently to take on a full-time position in Ocean County. He remains Helmetta’s COAH housing liaison, a position that is required by the state.

Schmeling earned a salary of $31,520 per year as business administrator.

“We do not plan on replacing his position at this time in an effort to save tax dollars,” Martin said. “All our department heads have stepped up to the plate in an effort to save tax dollars for our residents, and we will continue without an administrator at this time.”

This year’s municipal budget included many upgrades in the police department. The borough has returned to covering all three police shifts, and has a fifth police officer in place to reduce the cost of overtime with vacations, sick and personal time.

Martin said officials hope to see the housing and mortgage markets improve in 2009, so that the redevelopment of the former Helme tobacco mill can move forward. Officials have been working with the development firm Kaplan Cos. to redevelop the property with age-restricted housing and retail stores, and are hopeful that the new uses will help to alleviate the tax rate.

Martin said councilmen Sewell Peckham and Patrick Smith worked with the Helmetta Board of Education earlier this year

to lower the school budget and are working to confirm that all students being paid for actually reside in the borough. The council adopted the municipal budget at its Aug. 27 meeting, with a total tax levy of $4.9 million. Of that amount, $1.1 million is for municipal taxes; $650,832 is for county taxes; $76,250 is for open space taxes; and

nearly $3.1 million is for school taxes.

The municipal tax rate for 2008 will be $1.96 per $100 of assessed value. When Corzine initially announced the aid cuts to small municipalities early this year, borough officials were looking at a possible tax rate of $2.04, but some of the aid was restored in response to protests from local officials throughout the state.

Though several categories of state aid were cut, Helmetta received its full share of state extraordinary aid. Martin said the borough received help from state Sen. Barbara Buono and Assembly members Patrick Diegnan and Peter Barnes III in securing the same amount of extraordinary aid that the town received in 2007.

“Our [state] representatives are familiar with our operation of the borough and have supported the restoration of aid,” Martin said. With the 2008 budget adopted, she said officials will now begin the 2009 budget process.