Home Jackson Sun Jackson News

Howell council cuts tax levy, adopts municipal budget

By Mark Rosman
Staff Writer

HOWELL – Nine days after taking no action to adopt the 2017 municipal budget, members of the Howell Township Council put a municipal spending plan in place for this year.

During a special meeting that was held on April 27, council members voted 4-1 to adopt a $47.77 million budget. The spending plan will be supported by a local tax levy of $26.34 million to be paid by Howell’s residential and commercial property owners.

Deputy Mayor Robert Nicastro, Councilwoman Pauline Smith, Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell and Councilman Robert Walsh voted to adopt the budget.

Mayor Theresa Berger voted no on the motion to adopt the budget. The motion followed a 4-1 vote by members of the council, with Berger voting no, to trim $246,000 from the tax levy that was proposed in the initial budget.

Following the vote on the adoption of the budget, O’Donnell said to Berger, “You voted no on your own cuts,” to which Berger replied, “I had bigger cuts.”

The budget for 2017 that the council introduced in March totaled $47.9 million and was proposed to be supported by a local tax levy of $26.59 million.

Residents who spoke during the April 18 public hearing on the budget objected to paying a total of $1.19 million more in municipal taxes this year. With the reductions that were approved on April 27, property owners will now pay a total of $944,000 more in municipal taxes, compared to 2016.

The 2016 municipal budget totaled $46.94 million and raised $25.4 million in local property taxes.

In order to trim the proposed 2017 tax levy, officials appropriated an additional $100,000 from Howell’s surplus funds to be used as revenue in the budget. The proposed budget used $3.5 million from surplus; the adopted budget will use $3.6 million from surplus.

Officials reduced expenses by a total of $146,000 from a combination of municipal departments to reach a total reduction in the amount to be raised by taxes of $246,000.

In 2016, the municipal tax rate was 39.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at $320,000 paid $1,277 in municipal taxes. The owner of a home assessed at $400,000 paid $1,596 in municipal taxes. The owner of a home assessed at $500,000 paid $1,995 in municipal taxes.

In 2017, the municipal tax rate is projected to be 39.53 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, according to Chief Financial Officer Louis Palazzo.

The owner of a home assessed at $320,000 will pay $1,265 in municipal taxes (decrease of $12). The owner of a home assessed at $400,000 will pay $1,581 in municipal taxes (decrease of $15). The owner of a home assessed at $500,000 will pay $1,977 in municipal taxes (decrease of $18).

An individual who owned a home that was assessed at the township average of $318,169 in 2016 paid about $1,269 in municipal taxes. If that person’s home is now assessed at the 2017 average of $332,528, he will pay $1,314 in municipal taxes (increase of $45).

During the special meeting when the budget was adopted, the mayor and council members listened to an hour of comments from residents, many of whom objected to the increase in the municipal tax levy from 2016 to 2017.

Some residents who spoke mentioned the amount of school taxes they pay to the Howell K-8 School District and to the Freehold Regional High School District.

Municipal officials told the residents that municipal taxes account for about 17 percent of a property owner’s total tax bill and that school taxes account for about 70 percent of the total tax bill. Monmouth County taxes and Howell fire district taxes make up the remainder of the tax bill.

Resident Jack Sillup told council members they have political influence over the school board and should be more proactive on school financial issues.

Council members told Sillup the school boards are separate entities over which they have no influence.

Nicastro said, “We have been lobbying for school reform for years. You need to call (state Senate President) Steve Sweeney, who is not letting bills for reform out of committee.”

Resident Don Smith, the husband of Councilwoman Pauline Smith, said the speaker who told the council members they can influence school board members “made a mistake. It is the people who have the power over the board of education.”

One resident said the total taxes on his 4,800-square-foot home that is assessed at $800,000 have reached $22,000 and asked, “When does it stop? My entire paycheck goes to pay my taxes.” He asked why all of the new businesses he sees in town do not lead to lower taxes.

Smith, the councilwoman, said there is a myth known as “the ratables chase” which indicates that additional businesses and developments will lower taxes, but she said more ratables do not necessarily lead to lower taxes because those businesses and developments require services which help drive up municipal costs.

Resident Richard Meyers suggested the creation of a county-wide police department and a county-wide fire department as a means of reducing the need for every town to provide those services. He said it is time to rethink how government services are provided in order to lower expenses.

In response to residents who suggested that their elected officials should cut the municipal tax levy by as much as $1 million, Walsh said, “The only way to cut millions is to shut down municipal departments. It can’t be done. I am comfortable with what we are doing.”

Walsh thanked Palazzo and Township Manager Jeff Mayfield for their work on the budget and said, “If anyone wants to tell me where to cut $1 million, I’m willing to listen. … I’m mad we are putting $500,000 into the budget for affordable housing legal fees. We will go to court and if we lose, it will cost way more than $500,000.”

Nicastro said, “We have tightened our belts as much as we could. This budget does not cut services. It is a tight budget that keeps the health, safety and welfare of the community intact. It keeps police on the streets, it keeps emergency services in place. If there is a day when we have to cut (a municipal department), maybe we will put that out to a referendum and let the people decide.”

Smith said, “Everything in our lives goes up. How can we (council members) be expected to maintain a budget where taxes do not go up? The only answer is to try and keep a happy medium.”

Exit mobile version