Red Bank officials last night introduced a proposed 2008-’09 budget that would increase the local portion of the typical homeowner’s property taxes by $311.20 per year.
The figure is just a starting point for several weeks of refining and public comment, borough officials said. But the $19 million spending plan $10.4 million of which would be raised by taxes and fees lands at a time of statewide fiscal turmoil not seen in several years.
It also reflects a quadruple whammy:
a $362,000 spike in the borough’s state-mandated contribution to pension costs for public employees;
the elimination of $182,000 received as state aid from Trenton last year;
the full impact of debt service costs not felt in the last three years, even as the borough was racking up $6.38 million in bonding costs for infrastructure repairs;
and a slowing economy, which has cut into fees from builders and other sources.
“There are no sacred cows in this budget. We have to make some rather difficult decisions they’re going to be painful decisions this year,” said Mayor Pasquale Menna. “We’re going to have to make some very difficult, politically charged decisions with regard to some employees.”
Among the austerity measures under consideration is a plan to evaluate borough properties that might be put up for sale. The council was scheduled to meet in closed session last night following its public session to discuss the proposed hiring of an appriaser, Peter Sockler, for that purpose.
Already, officials said, they have imposed a hiring freeze and have frozen wage and salaries for workers not covered by collective bargaining agreements. (A resolution authorizing the hire of a probationary police officer was tabled, but not because of the freeze; rather, Menna said, the council is waiting for the candidate, Jorge Torres, to graduate from the police academy, to which he has paid his own way.)
Still, three departments are asking for increased allotments parks & rec, seeking an additional 15.9 percent; the volunteer fire department, 14.3 percent; and the Shade Tree Commission, 52.4 percent, said Councilman Mike DuPont, who chairs the council’s finance committee.
“This is not a final budget, this is just an introduction,” said DuPont. “Everything’s on the board” for discussion.
The proposed budget, which is expected to be up for a vote April 28, calls for a 7.7-cent tax increase per $100 of property value, to 46.1 cents. For the owner of a home assessed at the average $406,627, that would mean a local purpose tax of $1,873, up from $1,561 in the current year.
Debt service alone is up more than $549,000 a year, to almost $3.5 million. “Infrastructure that’s 5.2 cents (of the increase) right there,” said DuPont.
Republican Councilman John Curley, who is seeking his party’s nod to run for Monmouth County Freeholder, was mildly critical of the spending plan, insisting that each department should conduct a zero-based analysis of its needs and challenging the council to drop healthcare insurance for elected officials and their families.
He also cited what he aid were numerous cost overruns and change orders on capital projects, and salaries for administrators he did not identify, as sources of potential savings.
“I see things that we’re going in the right direction on, and I applaud you,” Curley told DuPont, with whom he has frequently sparred in the past. “I just think we can go further.”