By JOHN T. WARD
After an adjustment by borough officials that nearly doubled an expected increase in the local school tax last month, a member of the Red Bank Board of Education fired back Tuesday night.
Sue Viscomi, who heads the board’s finance committee, said borough taxpayers may have been misled into believing the board approved a 12.74-percent spike in the local school portion of the tax, when in fact it adopted a budget reflecting a 6.95-percent increase in April.
“I personally think it’s irresponsible, what the town did with our tax bill,” she said at a board workshop meeting Tuesday night at the middle school. “We did not vote for a 12-percent increase.”
Mailed out with third-quarter tax bills and posted on the borough website last month was a “message to Red Bank taxpayers” that said the school portion of the tax was up 12.74 percent from 2014, whereas the borough portion was flat. It did not explain why the school increase was starkly higher than previously reported.
Borough officials said afterward that an after-the-fact adjustment to the school tax was needed after Monmouth County certified taxable real estate values in town, which showed an aggregate drop of $117 million, mostly as a result of successful tax appeals. The borough budget had anticipated the drop, said Chief Financial Officer Eugenia Poulos, while the school district’s, which was finalized almost three months earlier, did not.
The amount to be raised for the two-school district had to be reapportioned as a result, causing the spike, she said.
For the owner of a home valued at the borough-average assessment of $384,836, the new school rate of $.770 per $100 of valuation puts that portion of the tax bill at $2,963.24 for the year, instead of $2,811.11 under the board of ed’s budget. And it follows a 10-percent increase in the average homeowner’s share of school costs in 2014.
Schools Superintendent Jared Rumage told redbankgreen that the district wasn’t privy to the data and learned of the adjustment when tax bills were mailed.
Viscomi said the borough letter had misled some recipients into thinking the school board had raised taxes nearly 13 percent.
“It’s tough balancing a budget when you’re not fully funded” by the state, she said. “A lot of people are not educated” about mandates from the state, shortfalls in state aid, the cost of educating children with special needs and more, she said. “They just see a number…. but we did not vote on 12 percent. period.”
“The hard part is communicating that to the public, giving the reason why,” she added. “If that letter was sent out for political purposes, it’s disgusting to put children in the middle.”
Two audience members, Jill Burden and Judy DeHaven, spoke in support of the board’s efforts to keep the budget in check while making due without funding from the state under the 2008 School Funding Reform Act while also having to pass along a portion of tax revenue to the Red Bank Charter School.
In the current budget year, the district is required to remit more than half its state aid – $1.65 million – charter school, an increase of almost $98,000 from last year, officials have previously said.
“We are a bizarre situation here, funding three schools, not two,” said Burden, of West Westside Avenue. “We don’t have the money because we constantly have to give it away.”
“It upsets me terribly that the state year after year, cuts the funding to us, and that the state, year after year, fully funds our charter school,” said DeHaven,of Mechanic Street.