Howell council unanimously adopts $53.54 million budget for 2020

HOWELL – Members of the Howell Township Council have unanimously adopted the 2020 municipal budget.

Earlier this year, the council members introduced a $53.54 million budget that will be supported by the collection of $29.2 million in a local tax levy to be paid by Howell’s residential and commercial property owners.

The budget was initially scheduled for adoption on April 7. Due to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, the adoption was tabled until May 19 and subsequently carried to June 9.

On June 9, Mayor Theresa Berger, Deputy Mayor Evelyn O’Donnell, Councilman John Bonevich, Councilwoman Pamela Richmond and Councilman Thomas Russo voted to adopt the budget.

Municipal officials said no significant changes were made to the budget during the months between the spending plan’s introduction and adoption.

“This has certainly been a slippery budget. With the nine years I spent on the (Howell K-8) Board of Education with budgets, and three years here on the council, I have never seen a budget so flimsy; and I know it has been very difficult for the administration to actually deal with. However, I am really hoping the full council supports this,” O’Donnell said.

The deputy mayor said the council members have budgeted for police and emergency medical services employees. She said she believes safety in Howell is foremost in the budget.

“COVID-19 certainly has done us no favors in this budget, but I am hopeful county, state and federal money will roll in, that the grants will help us in the future. So it is with a great deal of hope, I believe everyone in the country understands this pandemic has just kicked us square in the pants and we have done the best we could do, and we have waited, I believe, as long as we possibly could” to adopt the budget, O’Donnell said.

She said she believes the council members did their due diligence on the budget.

“The due diligence on this budget has been excellent, and I will say I spent more time on this budget than I did on 12 other budgets,” O’Donnell said, referencing her previous school board and council experience.

Russo said this is the first time Howell officials have adopted a budget during a pandemic. He thanked Township Manager Brian Geoghegan, Chief Financial Officer Louis Palazzo and their staffs for all of their work on the budget.

“I want to thank all of you for doing an amazing job,” Russo said, as he called the budget “pro-public safety” and “fiscally responsible.”

“This (budget) comes at a time when I think public safety and fiscal responsibility is needed the most and I want to thank the governing body, the professionals and all of our departments. From our police department to the Department of Public Works, everybody adapted so quickly to the changes and that is the reason we are able to do this,” the councilman said.

Russo commended the courts for using teleconferences, saying “the continuing operation of the courts was crucial because the (revenue) hits we took in April were not taken in May. It only took a month to get that (system) rolling.”

Richmond apologized to Howell’s professionals and said, “I know I pushed back a little bit (on the budget) and I know I gave you guys a hard time about some of the numbers and figures because I wanted to make sure the residents knew we put the time in. It definitely was not easy.”

Bonevich said he was supporting the municipal budget.

“The No. 1 reason, the hires are there. Our parks, DPW, things are a mess and we need these hires. If these hires were not in the budget, I would have a problem, but they are there,” he said.

Berger voted “yes” on the budget’s adoption and told the professionals, “I think you guys did a great job and I appreciate what you did. You did a wonderful job this year. Thank you, gentlemen, I vote yes, thank you for your hard work,” the mayor said.

Of the $53.54 million that has been appropriated for 2020, officials said $24 million is accounted for in salaries; $24.49 million is accounted for in non-discretionary other expenses; and $4.95 million is accounted for in discretionary other expenses.

Howell’s 2020 budget will be supported by the collection of $29.2 million in taxes from residential and commercial property owners. Municipal officials said $900,000 from the township’s surplus fund (savings) would be used as revenue in the budget.

Howell’s 2019 budget totaled $52.3 million and was supported by the collection of $28.39 million in taxes from residential and commercial property owners. The budget used $1.2 million from the surplus fund as revenue.

From 2019 to 2020, total appropriations have increased $1.24 million and the local tax levy has increased $810,000.

In 2019, Howell’s municipal tax rate was 39.45 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at the township average of $357,214 paid about $1,409 in municipal taxes.

In 2020, the municipal tax rate is projected to remain 39.45 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The average home in Howell is now assessed at $365,623 and the owner of that home will pay about $1,442 in municipal taxes.

Municipal taxes are one item on a property owner’s total tax bill. Property owners in Howell also pay Howell K-8 School District taxes, Freehold Regional High School District taxes, a fire district tax and Monmouth County taxes.

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