Red Bank budget tax increase lower than expected

By MICHAEL NUNES
Staff Writer

RED BANK — The borough announced that the proposed tax increase would be less taxing on commercial and residential properties than previously expected.

According to information presented by the borough, the tax rate is expected to increase by 1.98 percent from the previous year.

“This is actually the lowest increase we have seen in quite some time except for last year where the increase was zero,” said Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer, who also chairs the borough’s finance committee.

A home assessed at the borough’s average of $354,006 would have a municipal tax bill of $2,070.90.

That total does not include county or school district taxes.

While the total budget has stayed the same, at $21.32 million, the municipal tax levy dropped in the current version from $12.60 to $12.16 million.

When the borough’s 2016 budget was introduced at the end of April, it carried a 5.5 percent tax increase from the previous year, which would have meant an over $100 increase on a home assessed at the borough average. According to Schwabenbauer at that meeting, the increase would go down as the finance committee continued to work on where savings can be found.

A hiring freeze as well as an expected increase from water and parking revenues also helped to pad the budget.

“We looked very carefully at our staffing and where we had openings we did not fill them,” she said.

At its May 11 meeting, the Red Bank Council voted 4-2 to increase parking fees at borough parking lots and street meters. Starting in July, parking fees for street-metered parking is set to increase to $1.50 from $1 and borough parking lots to $1 an hour from 50 cents. Schwabenbauer estimates that the increases will raise parking revenue by roughly $230,000.

Earlier this year the borough council voted to replace around 4,000 of the borough waters meters. Almost half the meters in Red Bank are over 25 years old and are either not functioning or giving inaccurate readings, causing the borough to underestimate how much water some homes are using.

“We looked at water revenues and we said ‘we are installing new meters and we are going to start billing some water we have not billed before because of the water meters in place,'” she said.

The budget presentation also saw some residents give feedback on ways the town could raise more revenue in order to keep taxes low. A popular point of discussion was to have nonprofits in the borough contribute more in the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) program.

According to Stanley Sickels, borough administrator for Red Bank, about 18 percent of properties in the borough are nonprofit.

The 2015 budget had no tax increase on commercial and residential business owners, but according to Schwabenbauer that was due to several sources of revenue that was not available to the borough this year.

“Last year we had a lot of one-time revenue jumps,” Schwabenbauer said, referencing the borough selling a firehouse on White Street for around $400,000 as well as multiple shared-service agreements which had helped to keep the tax rate flat the previous year.

Contact Michael Nunes at mnunes@gmnews.com.