SNOW GETS SOME BLAME FOR TAX HIKE

plow-stuckA borough plow stuck in the snow on Mechanic Street on December 27. The cost of the storm is about to sock Red Bank property owners. (Click to enlarge)

Red Bank property taxes may rise again this year.

Blame the usual culprits of climbing health insurance and pension costs. Add in a steep increase in refunds for tax appeals. But don’t forget the snow.

Yes, the bill for the blizzard of December 26 & 27, which paralyzed the region for days afterward, has come due.

The borough council, meeting for the first time on its new, bimonthly schedule of Wednesday nights, introduced a proposed $19.95 million spending plan for 2011-’12 that calls for an increase in the tax rate of 2.6 cents per $100 of property value, to 51 cents.

Bottom line for the owner of a home assessed at the townwide average of $403,696: an increase of $105 for the year.

But the budget, and the increase, remains under construction, said Councilman Mike DuPont, who heads the council’s finance committee.

“We anticipate that’s going to be down drastically, once we go through some of the numbers presented by the administration,” DuPont said of the tax increase.

Though the amount to be raised from property owners rose 4.9 percent, to $11.52 million, and the rate rose 5.3 percent, Sickels said the plan was within both the state-mandated levy and appropriations caps of 2 percent. That’s because the cap law championed by Governor Chris Christie allows municipalities to exclude specific costs from the compliance calculation.

One is pension costs. In Red Bank, they’re set to rise $91,568 in the coming year, to $1.36 million.

Another is insurance costs, which will jump $262,507, to $2.38 million.

Another is snow emergencies.

Sickels said the cost of of the blizzard to the borough, previously estimated at $470,000, topped out at some $540,000, including regular time and overtime paid to public works employees, equipment usage and fuel.

Included in the tally was $241,700 paid to plowing contractors hired over the phone, and at whatever rate they demanded, during and immediately after the blizzard, Sickels acknowledged.

“Those extraordinary numbers we had to pay to outside contractors so we could open the town up,” Sickels said in a presentation to an audience of several dozen residents.

That portion of the snow clearing tab alone equates to more than a penny of the local tax levy, or $40 per average-assessment property.

Sickels said the borough hopes to recoup up to 75 percent of that amount from the Federal Emergency Management Administration, pending an audit.

The spending plan was also impacted by revenue shrinkage of nearly $385,000 owing to successful tax appeals by property owners, and will be bolstered by $250,000 in surplus funds, officials said. Sickels did not immediately know the sources of the surplus. The 2010 budget tapped $350,000 from the borough water utility’s budget.

Sickels and DuPont said the budget is still evolving, and may change before it comes up for an adoption vote scheduled for April 26. In the interim, a detailed public presentation on the spending plan will be held, as in recent years, though no date has yet been set, DuPont said.