WEST WINDSOR: Council approved budget with 1-cent tax increase

Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer, West Windsor Township Council approved the proposed $39.9 million budget for 2017 – which carries a 1-cent increase in the municipal property tax – by a 4-1 vote following a public hearing Monday night., Township Council President Peter Mendonez cast the lone “no” vote. Township Council members Linda Geevers, Ayesha Hamilton, Hemant Marathe and Alison Miller voted to approve the spending plan., Mendonez said he voted against the proposed budget because he thought the tax rate increase could have been kept to less than a penny. The 2017 municipal property tax rate is 40 cents per $100 of assessed value, up from 39 cents., The 40-cent municipal property tax rate means the owner of a house assessed at the township average of $522,000 would pay $53 more in municipal property taxes – or $2,088 for 2017. Chief Financial Officer Joann Louth cautioned that the total assessed valuation, or tax base, has not yet been certified., Among the major sources of revenue to support the budget, property taxes account for nearly 60 percent. The municipal property tax generates $23.9 million in revenue., Other sources of revenue include $2.1 million in state aid. The hotel occupancy tax is expected to generate $700,000, plus $555,000 in fines and costs from the West Windsor Township Municipal Court., Another major source of revenue is the surplus account, or fund balance. The budget anticipates using $4.7 million in surplus funds, which would leave less than $1 million in that account. The fund balance has not dropped below $1 million since 2005, Louth said., The fund balance is replenished through several means, including the difference between the amount of revenue anticipated and the amount that actually comes in. If more money comes in than expected, the extra money goes into the surplus account., Louth warned council that it must reduce its reliance on the fund balance beginning in 2018 in order to stabilize and rebuild that account. The amount of fund balance has an impact on the township’s bond rating, which is AAA and which translates into lower interest rates when the township borrows money., During the public participation segment, former council member Brian Maher asked whether the council had done all that it could do to reduce the property tax rate hike., Maher, who served from 2012 to 2015, said that when  he was council president in 2014 and 2015, there was no increase in the municipal property tax rate., “The more money you give government, the more they will spend,” Maher said., But the council members who voted to approve the 2017 budget appeared to be pleased with the results., Geevers said the council reduced the proposed property tax rate increase from 1.6 cents to 1 cent. The budget is prepared by the Mayor and reviewed and enacted upon by the council., “There is not a lot of waste or padding in the budget,” Hamilton said. “There were not a lot of areas to play around with. I feel comfortable with the 1-cent increase. I support the budget.”

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