AFTER TWO DROPS, RUMSON TAX RISES

rumson-councilThe Rumson Borough Council met at a special meeting Tuesday afternoon to finalize the budget. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Unlike its neighbors to the west, Little Silver and Fair Haven, Rumson won’t be able to pull off one of those improbable shrinking New Jersey budgets in 2010.

After two years of holding the line on taxes, Rumson officials, faced with declines in revenues and increased costs, moved forward on passing a $15.2 million budget that includes a 6.9-percent spike in property tax bills.

That translates to a tax rate of 32 cents per $100 of assessed property value, up 2 cents from last year. The average home, assessed at about $1 million, will see an approximate $200 annual increase over last year’s $14.5 million budget, administrator Tom Rogers said.

This is only the second time in five years that taxes have gone up, he added.

The common theme in the state runs through Rumson: revenues are down, state aid cuts hurt and costs have gone up.

Including decreases in local and interest revenues and a shortfall in receipts from delinquent taxes, the borough lost more than $500,000. Coupled with pension, health insurance and contractual costs, local officials weren’t in the cushy position they had been in recent years to keep taxes static.

“We just had very little control over the items that go up, in double figures sometimes,” Mayor John Ekdahl said.

One big-ticket item included in the spending plan is a long-awaited road reconstruction project on Shrewsbury Drive, which, at $900,000, is expected to be offset with nearly $400,000 in county and state funds, Rogers said. The remaining balance will come from the borough’s bank, but he says these are funds that are built into every budget. Rather than repave and upgrade three or four problematic roads in town, all the attention will be focused on Shrewsbury Drive, which has been prone to flooding and has been at the top of the borough’s wish list to get done, Ekdahl said.

The road will be completely redone, with new drainage, curbing and  pavement.

“It’s still a very expensive project for us, and it’s one we’ve been working on for four years,” Ekdahl said, adding that he hopes it will be complete by the end of summer.

The borough also decided to transfer some money from its surplus account — about $200,000 — as a precaution for next year’s budget.

“This year we’re taking a cautious approach, as we did last year, with the economy,” Rogers said. “We’re being very careful to watch with that.”

When asked about how he felt about developing the budget and having to raise the tax rate, Ekdahl was disappointed but realistic.

“Well, we gave (taxpayers) two straight years with no increase,” he said. “My guess is the average resident, knowing what’s going on economically, and the noise coming out of Trenton, the taxpayers wouldn’t be surprised with a tax increase.”

Because of a shifting of funds within the budget, the council was not able to adopt the plan. Another public hearing will be held at 7:30p on July 13 at borough hall. It’s a formality, and total spending and the tax rate will not change between now and then, Rogers said.