Helmetta budget on rise due to legal fees, insurance

Municipal taxes would increase $33 on avg. home


HELMETTA — A $1.88 million budget introduced by the Borough Council would increase the municipal tax rate by just over a penny in 2010.

The tax hike would amount to $33 on the average borough home, assessed at $273,784, according to Chief Finance Of- ficer Lori A. Russo.

The budget, introduced April 28, is up nearly $58,000 from last year’s package, an increase that Russo attributed in part to rising legal expenses to fight a lawsuit from snuff mill redeveloper Kaplan Cos. The firm is suing the borough after its Planning Board rejected the builder’s application to market its approved residential development as non-age-restricted housing. The borough is allocating $75,000 in this year’s budget for legal expenses, $30,000 of which is related to the Kaplan litigation. Last year, the borough’s legal allocation was $45,000.

Also contributing to the budget increase are rising health insurance costs, which will go from $91,000 in 2009 to $111,000 due to an 18 percent increase in the state plan in which Helmetta participates, Russo said.M

eanwhile, state aid to the borough has been reduced from $178,844 last year to $142,271. As a result of the lost revenue and the rising costs, the budget raises the total tax levy by nearly $19,000, bringing it to $1,114,856.

“The borough has done everything within its power to keep the municipal tax rate as stable as possible,” Mayor Nancy Martin said, noting that the town is facing challenges such as the Kaplan litigation and increased insurance and pension costs, along with other state-mandated expenses.

“We continue to search different avenues to continue to keep our costs down without affecting the services we currently provide to our residents,” Martin said.

Helmetta will save $16,000 due to a new shared service agreement that gave Sayreville control of Helmetta’s construction and zoning services. While Helmetta is not paying Sayreville, the latter town earns revenue from fees paid by applicants for services. Martin has said her town pursued the agreement due to the loss of revenues over the past three years in that department and due to the present economic situation.

The 2010 Helmetta budget holds the line on staffing, meaning the borough still is not filling the part-time business administrator post that was vacated in 2008. The salaries of all employees, including those in the police and public works unions, will remain frozen for the second straight year.

“Our borough employees have again stepped up to the plate and taken a salary freeze,” Martin said. “I know this is the second year we have requested the employees to take a freeze, but everyone is understanding of the tough times we are all facing and we appreciate their cooperation.”

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 26 at borough hall.T

he municipal tax is just one portion of a homeowner’s property tax bill, which also includes school and county taxes. Helmetta residents are also facing a school tax hike of $51 on the average home; however, the school budget shared by Helmetta and Spotswood was defeated in the April 20 election and is now under review by both towns’ governing bodies.