East Brunswick municipal budget remains flat for 2018

EAST BRUNSWICK — With a unanimous vote, the members of the East Brunswick Township Council adopted a $67.24 million budget to fund the operation of the municipality during 2018.

“I am pleased to report that on the council’s budget sessions, conversations with the public and major efforts by my administrative staff, the 2018 municipal property tax levy will be the same as 2017,” Mayor Brad Cohen said in a statement.

The 2018 municipal tax levy will be $39.66, Business Administrator Joseph Criscuolo said. That is the amount of money that will be collected from East Brunswick’s residential and commercial property owners to support the budget.

The township will receive $4.17 million in state aid, which is the same amount as in 2017, according to Criscuolo. Other revenues account for the remainder of the budget.

The council held a public hearing prior to the adoption on April 23.

During the public hearing, Kevin McEvoy, a former mayor, said, “I come before you this evening to show my support and I ask the same of you regarding the passage of the municipal budget. Having listened to the presentations articulated by the department directors and our chief of police, I feel the mayor and Finance Director Lou Neely have our community moving in the right direction.”

Cohen said the municipal budget accounts for about 20 percent of every tax dollar paid by a property owner. A property owner’s total tax bill also includes taxes paid to Middlesex County, the East Brunswick School District, a fire district and for open space purposes.

In East Brunswick, the average home is assessed at $93,749. In 2018, the municipal tax rate will remain $2.08 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home that is assessed at the township average will pay $1,948 in municipal taxes in 2018. The owner of a home that is assessed at $150,000 will pay $3,120 in municipal taxes. The owner of a home that is assessed at $300,000 will pay $6,240 in municipal taxes.

“We have worked very hard this year to increase revenues and reduce our expenses. The fact remains that East Brunswick is a residential town where the residential assessment makes up nearly 80 percent of the tax base,” Cohen said.

“This fiscal plan should not be viewed myopically for the present tax year, but rather as part of a longer term planning process designed to advance growth through redevelopment. If this vision is realized, our hope is to reduce the dependence on residential property taxes as we see real growth in our commercial and industrial sectors,” the mayor said.

Going forward, officials must be aware of potential expenses that are out of their hands, Cohen said.

“Our bargaining units have yet to settle contracts that expired Dec. 31, 2017, as they wait for a signal from Trenton regarding the 2 percent cap and the Chapter 78 laws, mandatory public employee contributions to health care and pensions. We have limited control of health care costs,” Cohen said.

“As the population ages and the cost of medical care increases, this can have a major impact on our expenses as we now pay for as many people who are retired as the number of active employees,” he added.

Cohen also said, “We cannot predict the effect of the new federal tax law, but many expect this can have a negative effect on property values. If this were to stimulate tax appeals, the township is on the hook for 100 percent of any refund. We cannot collect (the refund) back from the school district, the county or fire districts.”

Cohen said officials have closely monitored East Brunswick’s debt ratio.

“This has been recognized by the capital markets and has resulted in superior bond ratings. This allows us to borrow at extremely low interest rates,” Cohen said. “The schools have benefited from this as the township can offer these low rates through shared services agreements. This significantly reduces the financing charges the schools would incur if they went to the market on their own.”

He reiterated that through strict fiscal management and the efforts of municipal staff members, the township will have no increase in municipal taxes for 2018.

“If we are to see this reflected in the final 2018 tax bill, this same restraint will need to be exercised by every other component party of your residential property tax bill,” Cohen said.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.