HOWELL – The Howell Township Council has unanimously introduced a 2021 municipal budget that totals $54.84 million. Officials set May 11 as the date for a public hearing on the spending plan.
Mayor Theresa Berger, Deputy Mayor Thomas Russo, Councilman John Bonevich, Councilwoman Pamela Richmond and Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell voted “yes” on a motion to introduce the budget during the April 13 council meeting.
The 2021 budget 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.
Municipal officials said that in the $54.84 million budget, $24.6 million will be appropriated to salaries; $25.4 million will be appropriated to non-discretionary other expenses; and $4.59 million will be appropriated to discretionary other expenses.
In 2020, council members adopted a $53.54 million budget that was supported by the collection of $29.2 million in a local tax levy. While total appropriations have increased by $1.3 million from 2020 to 2021, the local tax levy will remain stable at $29.2 million.
Municipal officials maintained a stable tax levy by increasing the amount of money that will be taken from Howell’s surplus fund (savings account) and applied as revenue in the budget.
In 2020, officials used $6 million from the surplus fund as revenue in the budget.
In 2021, officials will use $7.28 million from the surplus fund as revenue in the budget.
Chief Financial Officer Louis Palazzo told the Tri-Town News the increased amount of surplus funds to be appropriated in 2021 will keep the tax levy stable from 2020 to 2021.
In 2020, with a tax levy of $29.2 million, the municipal tax rate was 39.45 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The average home was assessed at $365,623 and the owner of that home paid about $1,442 in municipal taxes (0.3945 x 3,656).
In 2021, with a tax levy of $29.2 million, the municipal tax rate is projected to decrease to 38.6 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The average home is assessed at $371,527 and the owner of that home will pay about $1,434 in municipal taxes (0.386 x 3,715).
Municipal taxes are one item on a property owner’s total tax bill. Property owners also pay Howell K-8 School District taxes, Freehold Regional High School District taxes, a fire district tax and Monmouth County taxes.
The total 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.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Rob Nicasto, a former councilman who currently serves on the Howell Planning Board, said he reviewed the budget and had some questions.
“One question I have, as the council prides itself as being fiscally responsible, I have noticed new hires in the budget. This is not about any individuals. I looked at the hiring of the EMTs (emergency medical technicians).
“I believe that is a wash because we do medical, we do billing, and the cost of those EMTs will be a wash based on the revenue we generate through the EMS (emergency medical services) program. The police officer (being hired) is a wash, it is probably replacing a retiree.
“Then we have a full-time Office of Emergency Management (OEM) coordinator,” Nicastro said.
He asked the council members why they would change from having a person who is being paid a stipend to serve as Howell’s OEM coordinator to employing a full-time OEM coordinator.
“We have dealt with hurricanes and blizzards; we are moving a position that now has a stipend of $7,500 to (a full-time position at) $55,000. I think if this is based on COVID, COVID is going to end. We have had many emergencies before, there have been many OEM coordinators (in Howell), there is a full-time OEM coordinator at the county,” Nicastro said.
He said the change does not seem fiscally responsible and said he believes the change will create more bureaucracy.
Berger said the current OEM coordinator, Victor Cook, has brought in more than $417,000 to Howell.
“He has written grants, I have worked on grants with him. In my opinion, at this point, he has paid for his salary,” the mayor said, adding that she respects Nicastro’s opinion.
“For someone to bring in $417,000, or closer to $600,000, I think that is a positive for our town. I think we should keep that person to continue those grants,” Berger said.
Resident Tina Smilek and Bonevich asked how Nicastro had seen the budget since it had not been made public at the time of the meeting.
Berger said that question should be looked into.