RED BANK: SCHOOL TAX UP NEARLY 7 PERCENT

suzanne viscomi 042815Suzanne Viscomi, of the board’s finance committee, speaking at Tuesday night’s meeting. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

HOT-TOPIC_03The typical Red Bank homeowner will pay $100 more this year to support the borough school district, following the board of education’s adoption of the 2015-’16 budget Tuesday night.

The $24.85-million spending plan, which one board member opposed, calls for a 6.95-percent local tax increase.

That breaks down as 2-percent increase allowed under the state-mandated “hard cap” signed into law by Governor Chris Christie in 2010; a 3.3-percent increase allowable under waivers for enrollment increases and health benefits expenses; and use of 1.65-percent worth of “banked cap” under a law that allows districts to exceed the 2-percent cap by utilizing credit from past budgets that grew less than that amount.

Bottom line: for the owner of a property assessed at the borough average $384,836, the tax increase for the year is $101, to $1,510 for the year. The equalized rate is $.3923 per $100 of assessed value.

Jared Rumage, presenting the first budget developed since he became superintendent a year ago, outlined the rationale for the plan.

Come September, enrollment will have climbed 21 percent in the last five years, to an estimated 1,484 students, 89 percent of whom are considered economically disadvantaged, up from 66 percent, Rumage said.

But state aid for the coming year was unchanged at $3 million, though the state’s own calculations showed the district should be allocated $600,000. The failure to fully fund meant the difference between a tax increase and none, he said.

The district is required to remit more than half its state aid – $1.65 million – to the Red Bank Charter School this year, an increase of almost $98,000.

Under the banked cap law, the district had enough credits to have imposed as much as a 9-percent tax increase without going to voters for approval, Rumage said. Instead, the board decided to allow significant credits to vanish, as they do when unused after three years.

“Our focus most definitely was on the big picture,” Rumage said. “We did not and will not be guided by quick fixes.”

“We’ve been shortchanged about $600,000 by the state,” said Suzanne Viscomi, who serves on the budget committee. “Unfortunately, there’s really no recourse.”No borough residents spoke during the public comment session. With one board member absent, the vote was 7-1 in favor.

Michael Ballard, who cast the lone no vote, said he based his opposition on the inclusion of salary increases for teachers.

“Our children are steadily underachieving academically, and we’re raising salaries,” he said.”I find it difficult to go to my community and say we’re raising taxes to increase salaries.”

His comments prompted passionate responses from other board members in defense of the negotiated salaries.

“Our teachers work their tails off with these kids,” said 14-year-board member Peter Noble, “and the little itty-bit of an increase they get I think they deserve, and they deserve our support.”

Here’s the user-friendly version of the budget: RB SCHOOLS 2015-16 BUDGET