By JOHN T. WARD
The hike was driven by a drop in revenue, said Councilman Michael Ballard, including a halt by Riverview Medical Center of its customary payment in lieu of taxes.
According to borough Chief Financial Officer Eugenia Poulos, the owner of a property assessed at the estimated average of $366,000 would pay $100 more this year in support of the local government.
The tax does not reflect levies by the borough school and regional high school districts, nor those imposed by Monmouth County.
Ballard, a Democrat who’s heading the finance committee in his first year on the council, said the increase was necessitated by “a deficiency in revenue.” Riverview, whose tax-exempt status is under challenge by Red Bank in a pending lawsuit, is withholding the $277,000 it gave the town last year under a Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, agreement, he said.
“That’s about a third of the deficiency,” he said. “We’re having some conflicts with them.”
A Riverview spokeswoman declined comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
Auditor Chuck Fallon told the council that the borough’s pension costs were up $100,000 year, while operating expenses were unchanged from 2017. Overall revenue faces a $480,000 decline, he said.
Mayor Pasquale Menna laid part of the blame for the increase on “extraordinary tax appeals” that have sapped the town. They have additional adverse impacts, he said, because the borough can’t recover funds it has already paid to school districts and Monmouth County.
“It comes directly out of the taxpayers’ pockets,” he said.
In response, the borough has initiated “very aggressive, proactive steps” to counter the tax appeal trend by suing nonprofits for holdings it believes should be taxed, and by using “reverse appeal” litigation against commercial property owners for land and buildings that are undervalued, he said.
“What they’ve been doing to us, we’ve finally turned on them,” Menna said, “and I think we will be very successful in that.”
The increase follows a 2.9-percent hike in 2017. The average increase over the last six budgets, including the 2018 spending plan, is 1.5 percent, Fallon said.
Ballard noted that the council has approved the hiring of a grant consultant to focus on pursuit of available government and foundation funding.
Councilman Mark Taylor said he was disappointed that the spending plan does not allocate funds for a Master Plan update, “which I think is an oversight,” he said.
The budget is available on the borough website here. A June 13 adoption vote is expected, with a public presentation by the finance committee to be scheduled in the interim, Menna said.