NORTH BRUNSWICK – North Brunswick Township is the first municipality in New Jersey to go live with the state’s new software program.
Since North Brunswick is a fiscal year town, officials were able to introduce the municipal budget using the new PAST program on Sept. 17.
However, since officials have been working with the state’s Division of Local Government Services team on some minor IT updates, the public hearing was set for Oct. 2.
During the most recent meeting, officials adopted a $50 million budget to fund the operation of North Brunswick during Fiscal Year (FY) 2018-19. The owner of a home assessed at the township average of $158,520 will pay $2,006 in municipal taxes, a $66 increase from FY 2017-18.
Township officials will collect $31.49 million in taxes from North Brunswick’s property owners, compared to $30.34 million in the year prior.
The municipal tax rate is $1.266 per $100 of assessed valuation.
Municipal taxes are one component of a property owner’s total tax bill. North Brunswick property owners also pay school taxes and Middlesex County taxes, among other assessments.
On the Appropriations side of the budget, in May, $100,000 in uncommitted FY ’18 appropriations were moved to the Snow Trust, making more than $262,000 available for this coming winter season, Business Administrator Justine Progebin said.
Next, funding in FY ’18’s budget was moved to the Tax Appeal Reserves, which had no cash settlements drawn against it for the year, and has now increased to more than $370,000, she said.
“Finally, we would like to note there was no over-expenditure in any line item – a key item that rating agencies look for when evaluating a municipality’s fiscal integrity,” Progebin said.
Progebin mentioned some highlights within each township department.
- Finance maintained some notable financial practices. Standard and Poor’s maintained the municipality’s debt rating, currently a AA+ with a positive outlook, highlighting good financial practices by the township. The 2018 bond anticipation note and bond sale received favorable net interest rates. Tax appeals continued to decline with Tax Assessor Dianne Walker settling all tax appeals with no cash refunds. There is more than a $23.4 million increase in the total ratable base.
- Community Development saw an increase in homes and rental, shopping and dining, medical facilities, and office and warehouse space. Trader Joe’s, Holiday Inn Express, Hobby Lobby, Sakura Sushi, Seafood Boil, RedBrick Pizza and Mollaga Indian Grill have joined North Brunswick. The new building on Old Georges Road, at the site of the Musical String Factory, continues development with loft apartments and retail space at the ground level. One of the two new planned warehouses has been completed at the site of the warehouse fire on Livingston Avenue.
- Within the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, the Music in the Parks series expanded, and a new Pet Reflection Memorial Garden was opened at Community Park. The Senior Center recently opened a renovated kitchen.
- The Police Department has expanded from 82 to 84 officers. This increase enabled the department to expand community outreach programs, including the bicycle patrol unit. The department is in the final process of becoming an accredited police agency. Accident reports are now available online. The department completed its first year under a shared partnership with the North Brunswick Township School District Board of Education to have Class III special officers in all six public schools.
- Within the Department of Public Works, the Buildings and Grounds Division worked on facility projects including the construction of a new vehicle maintenance garage, replacing the leaking roof over the public works office space and renovating the department’s office area.
Progebin said the small municipal tax increase continues a stable and predictable trend.
“The net taxable value increased for the fifth year in a row, which will help stabilize municipal, as well as school and county tax rates in coming years. New developments also continue to enhance real estate values. In addition, the FY ’19 budget is compliant with the tax levy cap and budget appropriation cap,” she said.
The FY ’19 revenue summary anticipates a slight reduction in the use of surplus funds (savings), an overall decrease in local revenue based on trending projections, the same amount in funding due back from the state, an increase in grants funding, a slight increase in the library tax, and an increase in the fiscal tax levy, she said.
North Brunswick has followed a declining trend in the use of surplus funds, from 15 percent in 2009, to stabilizing at around 7 percent, she said.
“This utilization amount is desirable for our community, because it allows the township to maintain over 10 percent in our fund balance, which is favorable to investors looking to purchase municipal notes, while on the flip side, utilizes enough to deliver a stable tax rate from year to year,” she said.
The total appropriations for the FY ’19 budget is $50 million, which is a 4 percent net increase over the prior fiscal year.
However, Progebin did note a few line items, most notably health insurance.
“Over the past 15 years, rising health insurance costs and slowing revenue growth have put a fiscal strain on local budgets. Because of recent increases in premium costs issued by the state, towns and school districts have been moving toward changing the level of health insurance plans offered to their employees that are members of the State Health Benefits Program. Health insurance for North Brunswick’s active and retired employees in FY ’18 consumed 11 percent of the total budget.
“Providing health benefits is a necessary cost to attract and retain staff, but the pace of growth over the last 15 years is making it difficult to sustain while still being able to invest in other areas that directly affect services to the township. Starting in January 2019, the township is responding by changing the standard plan offered to active employees from NJ DIRECT10 to NJ DIRECT15. The anticipated annual savings is estimated at $400,000, of which $200,000 will be reflected in the FY ’19 budget, based on current plans selected.
“Next, the township’s mandatory pension obligation continues to see an increase that forces the township to make up the cost through reductions elsewhere in the budget such as places like our workforce. The salary and wage this year has a 2.6 percent increase, which reflects a 200-member workforce, two less than the prior fiscal year. To give some context to how much has been streamlined, going back over 10 years, the township had almost 240 full-time positions,” she said.
Also notable is the rising cost for sanitation and recycling disposal. To reduce costs, the township has explored single-stream recycling, which is easier than sorting recyclables for individuals so household recycling rates tend to increase, and second, with collection easier to dump one 95-gallon container into an automated truck with one compartment, it saves money on the collection costs, Progebin said.
In the upcoming year, the Road Pavement Improvement Program will continue; since 2004, approximately 40 of the 80 miles of municipal roads have been paved, including more than $3.4 million in capital funding as part of this fiscal budget, Progebin said.
North Brunswick has been awarded a $1 million grant from the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT), under the new Local Freight Impact Fund, for the reconstruction of Finnegans Lane off Route 130. In addition, under DOT, $925,000 has been awarded for the Quarry Lane pavement project.
North Brunswick is in the process of developing a long-term plan under the recently enacted Water Quality Accountability Act. One of the first actions includes changing all meters in the township, a project which was last done on 1997. This project is anticipated to take a little more than a year, Progebin said.
Public Works launched just over a year ago, under the Streets and Road Division, an in-house tree maintenance crew. The township purchased an aerial truck and the team has responded to more than 300 requests this year for tree trimming and removal, as well as stump grinding services. The FY ’19 capital includes funding for a compact track loader with forestry cutting attachments for easement clearing.
The Sewer Division, by this fall, will have completed the reconstruction of the How Lane Pump Station. This will conclude the 15-year program to revitalize all seven of the municipal pumping stations, Progebin said.
Under the Parks Department, the preliminary concept and design phase of Babbage Park is underway, with final planning and design anticipated to be completed by next spring.