HOWELL – Municipal officials put a $51.06 million budget in place for 2018 with a 3-1 vote at the May 1 meeting of the Howell Township Council.
Councilman Bob Walsh, Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell and Deputy Mayor Rob Nicastro voted “yes” on a motion to adopt the spending plan. Mayor Theresa Berger voted “no.” Councilwoman Pauline Smith was absent.
“I have to say I was inclined to vote no on this budget. I know everybody worked really hard, I almost kind of feel like I am voting on the budget in protest,” Berger said.
Berger said she did not want any cuts to the Howell Police Department.
Police salaries and wages were budgeted at $11.8 million in 2017. Police salaries and wages are budgeted at $12.4 million in 2018. Other police expenses were budgeted at $554,308 in 2017. Other police expenses are budgeted at $624,539 in 2018.
“I just do not want any cuts to the police department, I know that is one department that can be cut, or that has been on the table, (but) did not have any cuts this year and I do not want to put this town at any risk and I do not want any members of the town to feel we did that intentionally because depending upon the services that the police department does … I just have to vote no,” Berger said.
Nicastro responded to Berger and said, “You know one of the biggest responsibilities we have as a governing body is this budget, and you know I respect your opinion on the police department and we have many services we provide here, the Department of Public Works, senior services, and the list goes on and on and on and on.”
Nicastro commended Township Manager Brian Geoghegan and his team for working “tirelessly” to reduce the budget.
“It is a shame you (Berger) voted no because I think you are playing politics, but with that said, you have a decrease in the tax rate, you have no services cut, Howell is on a financially stable path. I think this is something the residents should be very proud of, there is a lot of work that takes place and a lot of planning,” Nicastro said, adding that Berger’s vote was “unfortunate.”
“At the end of the day, I just really want to commend the staff and this council because we put a lot of time and a lot of energy into this budget to make sure we did not cut any services to the people, and we maintained the quality of life that people expect to live (with) in Howell,” Nicastro said.
O’Donnell added, “and several extra meetings to boot, which apparently did not help.”
Berger replied, “we are all entitled to an opinion.”
Walsh said he was ” a little disgusted.”
“If you (Berger) had a problem with the budget, you made no phone call, no effort to ask anybody to reduce anything over the last 30 days since (the budget was) introduced and that is a shame because if you really had a problem with it I wish you had discussed it, spoke to the public, told everybody what your issues were other than ‘I vote no to the budget.’
“It’s OK, God bless you. I expected nothing less, nothing more. I am perfectly fine with it. Write it in the newspaper, the mayor voted no to the budget, but gave no examples of anything she wanted to cut,” Walsh said.
The $51.06 million budget will be supported in part by the collection of $26.8 million in taxes from Howell’s residential and commercial property owners. The municipal tax rate is projected to be 38.7 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, the average home is assessed at $343,544 and the owner of that home will pay $1,329 in municipal taxes.
In 2017, the budget totaled $48.14 million and property owners paid a local tax levy of $26.34 million. The municipal tax rate was 39.7 cents per $100, the average home was assessed at $332,528 and the owner of that home paid $1,320 in municipal taxes.
The total budget for 2018 has increased by $2.92 million over 2017 and the tax levy has increased by $460,000. Officials are covering a significant portion of the increase in the budget with a $2.6 million increase from Howell’s surplus funds (savings). In 2017, council members used $3.6 million from surplus as revenue in the budget. In 2018, council members will use $6.2 million from surplus as revenue in the budget.
Municipal taxes are one item on a property owner’s tax bill. Howell property owners also pay Howell K-8 School District taxes, Freehold Regional High School District taxes, Monmouth County taxes and other assessments.