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SEA BRIGHT SPENDING DOWN, TAXES UP

read-murphyCouncilman Read Murphy reads an overview of Sea Bright’s budget Tuesday night. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

A drop in revenues and increases in costs will drive taxes up in Sea Bright this year, despite the borough’s slash in spending, officials announced on Tuesday.

The council introduced its $5.19 million spending plan for 2011 Tuesday night, a $152,600, or 3 percent, decrease from last year’s budget.

But that won’t translate to a decrease in the tax rate.

If approved, the rate will go up 3 cents, to 74 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

For a home assessed at the average $300,000, that will mean a $90 hike in tax bills this year.

In formulating this year’s spending, the council went to all departments and made cuts, officials said. But even though it managed to reduce spending, increases in health insurance and other expenses were beyond the council’s control, they said. Sea Bright’s neighbor to the west, Rumson, faces a similar situation with its budget.

“It’s unfortunate that they go up, but it’s hard,” Mayor Maria Fernandes said. “We kept spending really low. We did what we could possibly do.”

The borough’s financial officer, Mike Bascom, said the council couldn’t go anywhere for help, as it did last year, when the dissolution of the school-less town’s board of education funneled about $300,000 into borough coffers. It wasn’t able to rejuvenate its surplus, either, he said.

This budget, he said, “is getting back to what the borough could afford. There’s no tricks. It’s all actual operations and revenues that the borough can expect this year.”

State aid was also cut, albeit by only $9, to $160,827, he said.

The borough is taking steps for savings in the future, officials said. The council approved a $361,000 bond for a new fire truck, the second purchase in two years to replace old, money-sucking equipment, Bascom said.

“The new fire truck can help reduce maintenance costs,” Bascom said. “With the new truck, we won’t have the outlandish costs associated with keeping up with the older truck.”

Moving ahead, Fernandes said the pressure to stay within the two-percent property tax cap is likely going to force the borough to find savings by joining forces with neighboring towns to share services — a move the council is reluctant to make, she said, because despite savings, it invariably costs jobs somewhere.

The borough outsourced its court system to Oceanport last year to save money, and entered into a contract with Rumson for maintenance services to its police and public works vehicles.

“We have to get more proactive with the sharing of services, but we’re not prepared to talk about it,” Fernandes said. “But this is the way it’s going. If the council doesn’t want to talk about sharing services it’s going to cost us money.”

The budget will be up for a public hearing and final adoption on April 19.

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