January 3, 2010

 

Aid won't stop tax increase in Glo. Twp.

By JANE ROH
Courier-Post Staff

Gloucester Township will receive a $250,000 infusion from the state this fiscal year, but it won't be enough to avert a tax hike.

Officials initially forecast a 15-cent property tax rate hike, but an independent audit revealed the township's financial condition was worse than thought.

With the extraordinary aid award announced in late December taken into consideration, residents can expect a 22-cent increase in their tax levy, or about $250 per household. The rate increase would have been 23 cents without the additional aid.

"We have a tax levy cap problem," said business administrator Tom Cardis.

He and Mayor-elect Dave Mayer will go before the Local Finance Board in Trenton to request a waiver to the state-mandated 4 percent cap on tax increases, Cardis said.

The township received the award, intended to help municipalities avert dramatic property tax increases, after being rejected last fiscal year.

Lawnside, which received $450,000, was the only other municipality in the tri-county region to get the aid. Several municipalities received millions, including East Orange and Irvington in Essex County, with $2 million each. Perth Amboy in Middlesex County received $3.5 million, the highest award given out this year.

The size of the extraordinary aid program, administered by the Department of Community Affairs, has shrunk steadily along with the economy. The state handed out more than $19 million in fiscal and calendar years 2009, down from nearly $30.9 million the previous year. DCA spokesman Edwin Carman said this year's budget is $500,000 short of last year's budget.

Republican lawmakers criticized the program in the run-up to the election, alleging political favoritism and lack of transparency. Some municipal finance administrators gripe the program seems to reward fiscal irresponsibility.

Perth Amboy, which has received large, consecutive extraordinary aid awards since at least 2005, is grappling with a $7 million deficit. Business administrator Jane Feigenbaum said local officials did not raise taxes for 10 years running, forcing taxpayers and the state to make up the difference now. The city also used funds from the water utility to pay bills elsewhere, she said.

Even with the large disbursement of aid, Perth Amboy residents will see a 5 percent tax hike next year.

In Gloucester Township, Council President Glen Bianchini said he was both surprised and pleased to receive the extra help, though he also expressed regret the township would have to raise taxes again.

"I am very unhappy about it. But at this point there is not much we can do about it other than continue to look for other ways to control our costs and make sure we're spending every dime appropriately," he said.

Homeowners visiting the Shop-Rite on Chews Landing Road seemed to take the news of a higher tax bill in stride, considering taxes also went up by $240 last year.

"It goes up every year. It's just a fact of life," said Kathy Tuno, a 10-year resident. She said life in the township was worth the extra cost.

"It's draining, especially for older people," said Tracy Schmoyer, a 15-year resident. She said while her friends considered leaving the township, she was less likely to uproot her two young daughters, both in the public school system.

"Living here, it's what you have to do. You know your taxes are going to go up," she said.

Reach Jane Roh at (856) 486-2919 or jroh@gannett.com