Middletown committee holds off on adoption of 2020 municipal budget

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MIDDLETOWN – The Township Committee has delayed the adoption of a proposed $83.45 million budget to fund the operation of Middletown in 2020, and the members of the governing body are asking state officials to provide guidance on financial matters.

A public hearing on the budget was held during the committee’s meeting on May 18. When the public hearing was closed, municipal officials said they would not vote to adopt the budget that evening. No date was set for when the budget may be adopted.

The 2020 budget, as proposed, totals $83.45 million and would be supported in part by the collection of $55.2 million in taxes from Middletown’s residential and commercial property owners.

In 2019, the municipal budget totaled $80.32 million and was supported by a local tax levy of $54.15 million. From 2019 to 2020, appropriations are up $3.13 million and the tax levy is up $1.05 million.

In 2019, the municipal tax rate was 47.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The average home in Middletown was assessed at $444,180. The owner of that home paid about $2,123 in municipal taxes.

In 2020, the municipal tax rate is projected to remain stable at 47.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The average home is now assessed at $448,197. The owner of that home will pay about $2,142 in municipal taxes.

Municipal taxes are one item on a property owner’s tax bill. Property owners also pay Middletown Township Public Schools taxes and Monmouth County taxes.

The amount an individual pays in property taxes is determined by the assessed value of his home and/or property, and the tax rate that is set by each taxing entity.

Deputy Mayor Anthony Fiore said he is not certain when the 2020 budget may be adopted.

“I’m not sure when we can adopt it. There has been no guidance from Trenton (state officials) on adopting a budget. This is a fiscally responsible budget. Will it last? I can’t answer that and we can’t get answers from Trenton,” Fiore said.

He said the effects of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic may lead to a shortfall in the committee’s revenue projections for the year.

“We don’t have a tangible plan in New Jersey. We have benchmarks. As an elected official, I would like some dates. People are asking me questions like ‘Will there be summer camp?’ and I can’t answer that.

“What will we need to do to open schools? I am sympathetic to the challenges at hand. This has to be handled with caution. We are being asked to fly blind. The pain I saw (in Middletown) as mayor during Superstorm Sandy (in 2012), I’m seeing again.

“We need a plan for Middletown or for New Jersey. Waiting for a vaccine is not an answer,” Fiore said.

Mayor Tony Perry said he agreed with the sentiments expressed by Fiore and added, “We are doing calculations regarding lost municipal revenue and it’s not looking good if businesses are not permitted to reopen soon.

“Business owners want consistency. I hope for the town’s sake and the lives of small business owners who put everything on the line for their families that we can begin to open up,” Perry said.

The mayor said town hall will begin a reopening on June 1 with limited hours for some departments. A full reopening will be phased in during June.

“Full staffing will begin to come back. I thank residents for their patience and I thank our employees for their efforts,” the mayor said.

In regard to returning to the way things were before the pandemic, resident Tara Fleming asked if municipal officials and local business owners “can do what we think is right for Middletown?”

Perry said executive orders that have been issued by Gov. Phil Murphy during the pandemic prohibit municipal a governing body from unilaterally going beyond any parameters that have been authorized in an executive order.

Fleming responded to the mayor and said, “I feel our constitutional rights at this stage are being violated. We have flattened the curve. We have done what was asked. At this point I think the governor is being quite unreasonable.”

In the days following the Township Committee meeting, Murphy announced certain restrictions on some New Jersey businesses were being lifted. However, some restrictions that were placed on businesses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic remained in place as of May 20.