It’s only a draft document, one that even councilman and finance committee chairman Michael DuPont said he had not seen beforehand. But a preliminary Red Bank budget unveiled at a first-ever presentation of its kind Monday night calls for a municipal tax increase this year of 6.5 percent.
Bottom line: for the owner of a home valued at $404,981 the new average, according to the recently completely reassessment that would mean a tax jump of $97 for the year, to $1,595, before factoring in school and county taxes.
DuPont says he wants to get that $97 down to zero by the time the proposed spending plan is introduced at Monday night’s council session.
Among the line items he thinks need serious reconsideration is a proposal to hire three additional code enforcement workers a plan that DuPont’s fellow Democrats have made a centerpiece of their strategy to address overcrowding and other safety issues in the rental housing market, particularly on the West Side.
“The budget may not allow for three full-timers,” DuPont said. “We might have to look at that to see if it should be one full-timer and a clerk.”
Mayor Pasquale Menna was not present, nor were other council members.
Other highlights of the draft budget:
+ The $20.24 million spending plan calls for $8.81 million to be raised from borough taxpayers, an increase of 8 percent.
+ Driving the increase are salaries and benefits. Salaries are up 7 percent from last year, to slightly above $7 million, reflecting previously negotiated increases for police and a plan to replace three recent and soon-to-be retirees in the department and add another patrol slot; that would raise the police payroll to $4 million, up 8 percent. Also getting increases under collective bargaining agreements are members of the Communications Workers of America Local 1034.
+ Pension and Social Security contributions soared 30 percent, as Red Bank, like municipalities statewide, adjusts to the reinstitution of pension set-asides that had been curtailed during the Whitman administration in the 1990s.
+ The borough’s municipal court, water and sewer utility and parking utility continued to be cash cows last year. Court fines for code enforcement, traffic and parking violations had been anticipated at $612,000 for 2006, but came in at nearly $775,000, a difference of 27 percent. The proposed budget anticipates the court gaveling $770,000 into borough coffers this year.
The water and sewer utility, with its own budget of $6.26 million, is expected to kick $300,000 of its surplus into the general fund, and the parking utility, with anticipated revenues of $1.08 million this year, will toss in another $250,000.
+ Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels, without mentioning Councilman John Curley, said the lone Republican’s proposal to knock overtime parking violation fines down to $25 from the present $38 would cost the borough $280,000 in reduced revenue not $181,000, as previously estimated. He expressed doubts that bolstering enforcement in the now-neglected hours of 4p to 8p would be sufficient to overcome the deficit, particularly in light of the additional staffing that would be required for such a plan.
+ The total value of real estate in the borough soared 130 percent in the latest reassessment, completed earlier this year by Realty Appraisal Co., to $2.24 billion, from the estimate of $973 million used in the prior budget.
+ Administrative expenses are down 5 percent from 2006-2007, to $2.81 million, reflecting the elimination of several positions, including those of director of special projects and part-time borough prosecutor.
“Everyone should realize that this is a work in progress,” said DuPont, a council newcomer who narrowly won his seat in last November’s election. “There’s goring to be a lot of tweaking. The goal is to achieve Gov. Corzine’s mandate of a 4-percent cap by 2008 this year. We hope to be well under the cap.”
The draft was prepared by borough chief financial officer Frank Mason, based on consultations with department heads. It was presented during an informational session in the council chambers that drew few members of the general public and lasted less than an hour. Most of the two dozen people in attendance identified themselves during a round of introductions as department heads or borough employees.
No questions were taken from the floor.
Sickels said the event was the first of its kind that he knew of in borough history: a presentation on the budget-in-process outside the aegis of the council itself. DuPont characterized it as part of a commitment under Menna for greater transparency in government. In the past, he said, “all this would have been done behind closed doors.”
DuPont said the budget documents would be posted on the borough wesbite soon after Monday’s introduction.