By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank Councilman Michael Ballard challenged his fellow Democrats on the governing body Thursday night for using unspent funds from 2020 to keep a lid on taxes.
At a special session of the council, held via Zoom, Ballard alleged the use of $3.5 million in surplus was driven by that objective.
Under the $24.2 million budget, property owners will see no increase in the local tax rate of $.617 per $100 assessed valuation.
The budget utilizes $3.5 million of $4.4 million in surplus from 2020, according to Councilman Hazim Yassin, who chaired the finance committee and oversaw the budget development.
Ballard, who was displaced as finance committee chairman by a council majority in January, said the council was drawing down the surplus “just to say we didn’t raise taxes.”
“It’s not about ‘saying’ we’re raising taxes by zero percent,” Yassin replied. “It’s about doing it.
“Doing something positive for the residents in my opinion is doing something for the sake of doing something positive,” he said.
Police Chief Darren McConnell, who is doing double duty as acting business administrator, said the use of surplus was partially driven by a $2.5 million shortfall in anticipated 2020 revenue as a result of the pandemic.
“There is a piece of that that we’re trying to make up with this budget without increasing taxes dramatically,” he said. “That is part of why we had to take surplus revenue and move it into this budget.”
Mayor Pasquale Menna called the spending plan “a great budget,” and Councilman Ed Zipprich, who often aligns with Ballard, credited former Councilman Mike DuPont for having “set up this rainy day fund” during his tenure as finance chairman.
“I think it benefits the borough, and it was there when we needed it,” he said.
Before council members could adopt the budget, they had to vote on a late amendment that would allocate an additional $96,000 in expenses to repairing the water-damaged Senior Center.
Ballard called the added spending “wasted money,” and cast the sole “no” vote, as he did on the overall budget.
Though the municipal tax rate is unchanged, because of a $40,000 jump in the average assessment, to $406,228, the owner of a home assessed at the average will pay $239 more this year, or $2,506, an increase of 10.5 percent.