By KAYLA J. MARSH
MATAWAN — The Borough Council has unanimously adopted an $11.45 million budget that officials said reflects a zero percent increase on the municipal tax rate.
At the governing body’s June 28 meeting, Mayor Joseph Altomonte said for 2016, the total municipal budget is $11,447,876.28.
“This [budget] maintains the same level of services and programs that borough residents have received in past years,” he said.
The budget includes a tax levy of $8,478,149.40. The municipal budget for 2015 in Matawan was $10,930,223.83.
According to Altomonte, the borough’s Finance Committee recommended that the borough’s 2016 spending plan include a total purpose tax rate of 83.6 cents per $100 of assessed value — roughly the same rate as last year.
This transpires that the owner of a home valued at the borough average of $300,000, would pay $8,148.87 in municipal taxes during 2016.
The municipal taxes an individual pays will be more or less than what is paid by the owner of a home assessed at the borough average depending on the assessed value of the home and/or property.
Municipal taxes are one part of a property owner’s annual tax bill. Other items include Monmouth County taxes, Matawan-Aberdeen Regional High School District taxes, library taxes and other assessments.
“The borough of Matawan continues to stay under the two percent state-mandated [levy] cap,” Altomonte said. “State mandates are fully complied with while assuring fiscal responsibility and employing best practices.
“This budget includes funding for mandatory increases for legal expenses, a new five-year solid waste and recycling contract, state pension increases, public library and increases in utility costs due to the new five-day work week for office staff.
“Through best management practices and shared services, Matawan has continued to deliver municipal needs without any additional tax burden.
“A combination of fiscally responsible use of surplus, along with zero-based budgeting and use of best practices, grant funds, stable debt service, increase in the tax collection rate and expanding shared services allowed the borough to continue to maintain a zero percent increase in 2016.”
When the budget was first introduced at the governing body’s May 31 meeting, Altomonte discussed the borough’s need to fix several of its dams and said he thought he could get a better deal to get the work completed.
“Allentown’s dam was paid for by [Monmouth] County … 100 percent except for a $270,000 grant that Allentown got from the state that they handed over to the county, and that’s all they’re [responsible] for, nothing else,” Altomonte said at the time.
Several council members took a minute to clarify some comments the mayor had made and to explain how the discussion came about.
“Our 2014 budget to 2015 budget went up approximately $228,000, this current budget is going up approximately $453,000,” Council President Joseph Urbano said. “The mayor’s using $180,000 out of our surplus but … I think what residents need to know [to] fill in the gap are some of the revenues that have [gone] in like increase in the permit fees … that’s not coming out of that $180,000 and I think the public needs to be aware of that.
“This council for the last eight years has worked very diligently to keep costs low and to bring new ratables into the town.”
Councilman Michael Caldon said he would be all for getting the dams fixed free of cost to the borough and its residents, but warned he doesn’t want to see the money squandered away or for the project to inadvertently have a negative impact for taxpayers.
“Many years ago, the town was approached by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and they said to the town and county, you have dams in this town that need to be addressed,” Caldon said. “As a result of that letter, the DEP pushing the town and the county together, they entered into an intergovernmental agreement … with the county picking up 50 percent of the costs of the dams and the town picking up 50 percent of the costs of the dams.”
Caldon said from that point money was slowly saved for the dams to limit the liability to the taxpayers.
“As this project and the engineering started to get done, there was a temporary bridge that was going to be installed on Ravine Drive, [and intersecting road] Aberdeen Road floods two to three times a month, so they needed the temporary bridge so people and police, fire and rescue could get to the other side of town and not go all the way around Route 34,” he said.
“As a result of that temporary bridge and the cost of that temporary bridge, the governing body at that time said, ‘can’t we take the money from the temporary bridge and fix Aberdeen Road permanently.’
“As a result of that discussion, the county started to reformulate how we were going to address the bridge … and the dams and they took into account raising Aberdeen Road as a permanent solution.”
Caldon said the idea was to take the money for the temporary bridge and instead fix Aberdeen Road, and an intergovernmental agreement was needed to accept this new project plan.
“I was at an event and speaking with the county engineer [Joseph Ettore] and he pulled me aside and said, ‘Look, councilman, these plans for your dams are coming to fruition. We’re about through with the engineering design, and this is going to be something that your town is going to have to address,’” Caldon said.
“[The] deal was originally 50/50, and in conversations with the [Monmouth County Board of Chosen] Freeholders and with the engineer as well as with help from the state, we were able to change those numbers to a 65/35 with Matawan taking 35 percent.
“I went and had a meeting with our auditor to find out how much money we were able to squirrel away in surplus to not affect our bond ratings and to keep them well where we’re at [and] I agree with the mayor and my fellow [Democratic] council members, if you’re going to get this done for free, who wouldn’t support that.
“… what I will not take is if this town takes a big tax increase or if we have to go out and bond $10 million or at the end of the day we’re not getting Aberdeen Road done or at the end of the day the $2.5 million [in surplus] is going somewhere and the taxpayers of this town are going to take it on the chin.
“When I came into this office, I said I will never step on someone’s porch and not be able to defend a decision I have made … and if [they] can get it done for free, fantastic.”