METUCHEN – The 2019 municipal budget reflects the changes of a growing, evolving borough, from a $3.5 million Middlesex County grant to support a Metuchen Arts District to the addition of a new police officer.
Members of the Borough Council introduced a $25.9 million spending plan at a meeting on April 8. The total budget is up $6 million from 2018.
A public hearing and the council’s adoption of the budget is scheduled for May 13.
Metuchen’s residential and commercial property owners will pay a total local tax levy of $14.1 million to support the 2019 budget. The tax levy is up $800,000 from 2018.
The increase in the tax levy adds five cents to the municipal tax rate. Borough Administrator Jay Muldoon said the projected municipal tax increase on a parcel with an assessed value of $206,806 is $103, a municipal tax rate increase of 3.9%, which is the same increase as 2018.
Muldoon said he was initially taken aback when he saw the total budget, however. He said that the budget reflects all the grants Metuchen has received so far, including the $3.5 million county grant.
“[The county grant] is the main driver of the [total budget] jump,” he said. “We have to reflect the full amount in our budget even though it will be spent over at least two years.”
Mayor Jonathan Busch previously said the $3.5 million grant from Middlesex County is the largest single grant Metuchen has ever received from the county.
In October 2018, county and borough officials came together to announce the county was allocating the grant from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund to help create the Metuchen Arts District.
The Metuchen Arts District would include the Metuchen Forum Theater along Main Street and the corner of Amboy Avenue, the site of an abandoned gas station. The acquisition of the theater is the first major step in the borough’s proposed creation of a Metuchen Arts District, which officials announced in August 2018.
The proposed arts district would include a renovation of the 450-seat Forum Theater and the conversion of the gas station next door into a contemporary indoor-outdoor event space and dining area called “Spot.”
Muldoon said grants are added to the budget as the borough receives them. He said officials cannot project the borough will receive a grant in the budget.
The municipal portion of a property owner’s tax bill is 22%. The tax bill also includes 62% for the Metuchen Public Schools, 15% for Middlesex County and 1% for the Metuchen Public Library.
The largest percentage of the proposed municipal budget is 18% for public safety (police), including salaries and wages, a contribution for emergency medical services and support for the fire department budget.
“We are hiring a new police officer this year,” Muldoon said, noting the new officer will bring the force to 29 officers. “Our town is growing, our population is growing, which is good. The demands put on our police department continue to increase. There has been discussion for many years of adding an additional police officer and I think the time is right to do that.”
Muldoon said the hiring of a new officer will allow another officer to join Police Officer Rob Ring as a traffic safety officer.
The proposed budget also includes the purchase of two police sport utility vehicles, mobile PCs, radar units and dashboard camera cases for patrol cars, and four digital radar speed signs for the police department.
For the Metuchen Department of Public Works, the budget includes the purchase of two pickup trucks with plows, a mason dump truck, the library roof and walkway repair, bathroom renovations at the senior center and pedestrian safety improvements and bike lanes.
For roads, the budget includes milling and paving of Lake Avenue, Clive Street, Memorial Parkway, Sheffield Place and Marsh Avenue, and a portion of Middlesex Avenue.
Other proposed budget initiatives include resurfacing of Oakland Tennis Court, an architect’s payment for a new firehouse and engineering plans for the Jersey Avenue sewer pump station.
The revenue portion of the proposed budget includes $1.6 million from surplus funds (savings); flat state aid at $1.4 million; a $1 million contribution from the Metuchen Parking Authority; $926,000 from local revenue – permits, licenses, and parking meters; $510,000 from the collection of delinquent taxes; and $500,000 from construction code fees.
Ratables total $1.1 billion, which have increased $24.8 million through new development, renovations and additions over the year. Muldoon said new ratables contribute incremental local tax revenue of $330,000 and $910,000 for schools in 2019.
Additional ratables are anticipated as The Hub, and developments on Hillside Avenue and Center Street, become fully occupied.
Muldoon said although Metuchen has a sizable ratables base, it is not enough to reduce the municipal tax rate, but he said the ratables allow officials to maintain the level of services being provided and to control property taxes to some degree.
For more information about the budget, visit www.metuchenj.org.