HIGHTSTOWN: Borough files request for $250,000 from state

By Sean Ruppert, Staff Writer
    HIGHTSTOWN — The borough is seeking $250,000 in extraordinary aid from the state to help mitigate its planned property tax increase.
    As it stands, the borough’s budget calls for an approximately $320,000 increase in the tax levy, which results in a tax rate of 75.6 cents per $100 of assessed value. This means that the owner of a home assessed at the township average of $270,500 will pay $2,054 in municipal taxes.
    In 2008, the borough received $200,000 in the extraordinary aid from the state, shrinking a 24-cent property tax increase to a 15-cent increase, under the old tax valuation. At that time, a penny on the tax rate was worth $21,685; it is now worth $49,973 after the recent revaluation.
    This year, the town’s administration submitted its application to the Department of Community Affairs on April 15 for even more funds.
    Should the full amount requested be granted, it would reduce the tax rate by about 5 cents from where it currently stands.
    This would result in a municipal tax bill of $1,909 for the average homeowner, a $144 decrease from what the budget currently calls for.
    Last year, before the property revaluation, the average home was assessed at $120,000 and the tax bill was $1,908.
    “Our residents cannot continue to bear the burden of significant tax increases year after year,” Mayor Bob Patten wrote in the application’s cover letter. “They have reached a crisis point, and they are begging for help. We are doing all that we can to meet that call, and are respectfully requesting the assistance of the state.”
    Among the explanations cited for needing the aid in the borough’s application were:
    • ”catastrophic” decreases in regular municipal aid from the state (The borough’s aid was reduced by about $16,000 this year, to $633,000, after a cut of about $181,000 in 2008.);
    • increases in insurance costs for employees;
    • the still-vacant Minute Maid facility, negatively affecting ratables;
    • aging infrastructure;
    • a lack of First Aid volunteers, causing the borough to contract for emergency medical services; and
    • the presence of numerous tax-exempt properties in the borough.
    ”It is our hope that this application will illustrate our continued need for extraordinary aid in 2009, and demonstrate our ongoing commitment and work toward maximum efficiency and reducing our reliance on this aid in future years,” Mayor Patten wrote in the cover letter.
To view the entire application, visit www.hightstownborough.com.
Sean Ruppert can be reached at [email protected].