FAIR HAVEN REDUCES TAXES… AGAIN

halfacre-1Fair Haven Mayor Mike Halfacre, shown here at a December council meeting, introduced a  smaller 2010 budget that shrinks taxes on Monday night. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Fair Haven has accomplished an improbable feat in today’s fiscal climate.

While most towns, including Red Bank, are jumping on the panic button to balance budgets over cuts in state aid and a dormant economy, borough officials on Monday night introduced a 2010 budget that reduces taxes.

Mayor Mike Halfacre, who’s vying for the Republican nomination to challenge 12th-district Congressman Rush Holt in November, was quick to tout the achievement as evidence of his GOP tax-cutting credentials.

The $8.06 million spending plan is $140,000 smaller than last year’s $8.2 million final budget. Unlike many towns in the state, Fair Haven operates its budget on a calendar year, so if adopted, the budget will become retroactive to January.

If approved, the budget will bring down the municipal tax rate to about 46.5 cents for every $100 of assessed property value, down from 47 cents last year.  For the owner of a home assessed at the borough average $535,000, that would mean $53.75 in savings on the local portion of their yearly property taxes.

“We lowered the spending. We lowered the tax levy. We lowered the tax rate,” Halfacre said.

The decrease was achieved despite a $140,000 cut in state aid. Over the last three years, Halfacre said, Fair Haven has seen a decrease in 40 percent in its allotment from the state.

Yet the borough, by going line by line, was able to make the overall reduction in spending, Halfacre said. He said outsourcing dispatch services to the county, cutting the borough administrator’s hours and refinancing the borough’s debt were major contributions to lowering the bottom line.

To boot, there won’t be the doomsday scenarios so many towns are facing, Halfacre said.

“The best part about this budget is there are no layoffs, there’s no furlough days, there’s no significant time off,” he said. “We did this by nickel-and-diming everything to the point where we don’t think there’s going to be a significant impact on our residents. We did this by hard work and smart planning.”

Halfacre, who plans to be a one-term mayor, sent out a press release Tuesday morning touting his “traditional Republican values” in a difficult fiscal climate.

From the release:

“When I took office in 2007, quite frankly, the Borough’s finances were a mess. The council and I very quickly set about a complete reorganization of Borough Hall, deciding what the functions of municipal government were and what could be outsourced. We fired the CFO and hired an outstanding new one, we consolidated positions, outsourced non-core functions and shared services where possible.”

Halfacre continued “We applied what I like to think of as traditional Republican values; we decided get government out of as many functions as possible, and the ones we had to be in, we set about to run as efficiently as possible while maintaining services to residents. This budget is the fruit of those efforts- even with the loss of significant state aid, we are able to lower taxes and keep our borrowing to a manageable level.”

The budget is slated for adoption at 7p on April 26 at Borough Hall.

Other notes from Monday night’s Borough Council meeting:

  • The borough received a $337,500 grant from the state to be used toward funding for the waterfront property at 78 DeNormandie Ave. Combined with an already-approved $250,000 county grant, that leaves the borough with about $600,000 to bond out toward the $1.2 million purchase. The property is set to be renovated to a riverfront park. The next step toward that goal is to conduct environmental studies at the property, which the borough awarded a bid for last night. After that, an oil tank on the property must be removed and the land cleaned up.
  • The council officially named a previously-unnamed pond at the Fair Haven Fields natural area to Dery’s Pond, in memorium to Dery Bennett, a longtime local and environmental activist.

“It was a good night,” Halfacre said.