South River council adopts $36.7M municipal budget for 2018

SOUTH RIVER – After two amendments, the South River Borough Council has adopted a 2018 budget that totals $36.7 million to fund the operation of the municipality.

The council was scheduled to adopt the budget on April 23, but due to unforeseen last minute requests and changes, the governing body introduced an amendment to the budget, according to a statement from the Budget Committee.

The two amendments were a Comcast settlement and expenses for South River School District security, according to Councilman Ryan Jones, who is a member of the Budget Committee.

South River received $185,000 in a settlement from Comcast after borough officials threatened to take legal action against Comcast if the company did not comply with the borough’s contract and reopen its store downtown. Comcast offered settlement money, according to Jones.

“The $185,000 doesn’t really affect the budget per se, though it needed to be reported. It’s an amount we negotiated with Comcast so we didn’t sue them. This amount is conditioned on use to invest in the downtown,” Jones said.

Jones said as a result of the settlement, Comcast does not have to open a store downtown.

“Comcast has been trying to get out of the requirement of keeping a store open downtown for over a year. We originally told them no. About four months ago, Comcast suddenly closed the store due to ‘asbestos issues.’

“We threatened to sue to enforce the clause, but we understand what they are doing. They came to us with this (settlement) package and we saw it as an opportunity to further invest in our downtown streetscape without raising taxes. We settled rather than watch them continue to play games while residents pay the price,” Jones said.

In a unanimous vote, the council adopted the municipal budget on May 29. The spending plan totals $36,719,163, according to Borough Administrator Jack Layne Jr. The borough will collect a local tax levy of $9,569,766 from South River’s residential and commercial property owners to support the budget, Layne said.

The municipal tax rate for 2018 is $2.331 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at the borough average of $81,988 will pay $1,909 in municipal taxes this year, an increase of about $65 from 2017, according to Layne.

On April 26, members of the Board of Education met with a group of council members to ask for assistance in paying for Class III police officers, according to information provided by the Budget Committee.

Class III police officers are retired law enforcement officers who will be assigned to schools.

The council has agreed to provide $82,000 to help fund the hiring of officers at each school, according to the Budget Committee.

“The $82,000 is an increase in the budget to cover payment for two Class III officers in the school. The [board] will cover two and we will cover two,” Jones said.

The council will assist the school board in 2018 to ensure funding is available to provide the recommended security in the school this year, according to the Budget Committee.

“This year’s deep dive into the budget by the committee resulted in the lowest tax increase in South River since 2014. The increases were primarily due to rises related to labor, such as increases in contractual police salary, group health benefits and pension costs,” Jones said. “We have also begun looking at electric utility investments to pass on savings to residents. Finally, we have aggressively paid down a half-million dollars more in debt than in typical years.”

Jones said as introduced, the budget resulted in a 2.31 percent tax increase.

“Due to a late request by the [school board] seeking assistance to increase security in our schools, the budget, as adopted, resulted in a 3.21 percent increase, or about $16 per household, per quarter,” Jones said. “I’m working to see these numbers further improve next year, but after the bill became due on a $13 million asset last year, we have worked hard to stabilize our budget and wean ourselves off our borough credit card.”

Jones, Layne, Councilman Jack Alai, Councilwoman Sandra Adelino and Chief Financial Officer Joseph Zanga are the members of the Budget Committee.

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