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RED BANK: TAX MAY RISE 7.7 PERCENT

By JOE FISHER

The average Red Bank homeowner would see a $150 property tax increase under a 2013 municipal budget introduced by the borough council Wednesday night.

The proposed $21.2 million spending plan would raise the municipal tax rate 7.7 percent, from the current 49.1 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 52.9 cents. That means the owner of a home assessed at the borough-average $396,000, stands to pay $2,095 for municipal services alone this year. The rate does not include school and county taxes.

The hit to the wallet is nearly triple the $56.50 2012 increase on the average home, then assessed at $401,000.

Councilman Michael DuPont, who heads the governing body’s budget-setting finance committee, said the weak economy played a major role in the tax increase. He cited a $19 million drop in the value of taxable property, and a $200,000 reduction in revenue from construction permits.

DuPont said the borough paid out $525,000 in successful tax appeals to close to 400 property owners last year.

“The loss in revenue from 2012 equals about 26.5 percent, or 1.1 cents, of the total tax increase,” DuPont said.

The borough plans to use $500,000 of surplus funds to offset the tax increase, said Colleen Lapp, the borough’s chief financial officer. That is the same amount applied to last year’s budget. There will be $350,000 remaining in borough surplus, but that number is expected to increase during the course of the year, DuPont said.

One cent on the municipal tax rate equals $224,000 in spending, according to DuPont. The overall amount to be raised by taxes for the new budget is $11.77 million, Lapp said.

Major spending increases include wages and health insurance for municipal employees. DuPont said this year’s increase in health insurance costs is just 6.4 percent compared to last year’s 22.4 percent hike. The reduction, DuPont said, is “big,” noting that health insurance costs alone account for 10 to 12 percent of the total budget.

DuPont said that employee contributions to their health insurance are steadily increasing and will account for more than $200,000 this year. “That is a big contribution,” he said. “It demonstrates that our employees are giving back and are willing to compromise so that the borough can operate in an efficient and economical manner.”

DuPont and Lapp noted that union contracts with both the Communications Workers of America and Police Benevolent Association expire at the end of this year, and that negotiations will include employee health insurance contributions.

Lapp said the borough also borrowed $450,000 last year as an emergency appropriation to clean up debris from Hurricane Sandy. The borough is paying back $100,000 of that in the new budget. DuPont said the council remains hopeful that federal money will offset that expense, as well as pay a major portion of the $1 million worth of repairs to borough parks and the water and sewer systems damaged by the storm.

Two new jobs are included in the budget: a full-time position for administration and a part-time post in the tax-assessor’s office.

A final adoption vote on the budget is scheduled for the council’s April 24 meeting.

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