COLTS NECK MUNICIPAL BUDGET RAISES TAXES BY NINE-TENTHS OF A CENT THIS YEAR By Tony Senk

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At the March 27 township committee meeting, Mayor Mike Fitzgerald introduced the township’s municipal budget for 2013 prior to the public hearing on the budget, which took place at the April 24 township committee meeting.  The total municipal budget for 2013 is $10,991,903. This amount includes the $365,889 that will be raised by the 1.2 cent dedicated tax for farmland, open space, and historic preservation. This total represents an increase of $624,544 above the 2012 budget (($10,367,359), again inclusive of the dedicated open space tax. Property taxes for municipal purposes will increase .9 — that’s nine-tenths — of one cent this year. For a home that is assessed at $800,000 — the average in Colts Neck — this represents an increase of $72 in property taxes for the year.  The budget is $38,845 under the two percent tax levy cap and $155,042 under the two percent appropriations cap. The year 2013 is the third year of the two percent property tax levy cap. This law stipulates that the amount raised by taxation can only increase by two percent with certain exceptions. These exceptions include debt service, pensions, health insurance, capital and certain emergencies, such as Superstorm Sandy in October, 2012.  Surplus finds totaling $994,000 have been utilized to offset the budget, leaving $574,760 for next year or the future. No school tax deferral has been used to offset the tax rate.  State aid remains the same as last year and totals $1,980,938.  A total of $6,187,210 will be raised by property taxes to support the budget, an increase of $238,009 above the 2012 amount. Most operating budgets for 2013 remained roughly the same as last year.      Major increases to the budget included medical insurance, which  increased by $57,000, though this is offset by increased employee contributions to their health insurance; and curbside recycling, which  increased by $24,500. In addition, debt service increased by $649,820, largely due to Superstorm Sandy. The township budgeted $500,000 of the $2.5 million emergency appropriation for storm clean-up, but was also allowed to anticipate $500,000 as revenue, thereby not affecting the tax rate this year. Whatever is still due after the township receives Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursements — estimated at $600,000 — will have to be paid in equal payments of $150,000 in the next four budget years.

Major decreases to the budget include a reduction in the township’s legal budget by $40,000, and the reduction in the police pension budget by $35,802 and $25,518 for all other employees.  The budget includes an aggressive “pay as you go” capital program that includes the following: $20,000 for recreation field  improvements; $15,000 for fire department turn-out gear; $32,000 for a marked four-wheel-drive police vehicle; $25,000 for police mobile radios; $120,000 for 20 police portable radios; $1,300 for a police mug shot camera; $6,000 for police printers for e-ticketing; $6,000 for police basement restoration; $25,000 for road improvements; and $11,000 for computers in all departments.

No new or additional employees are contained in the budget, and full- and part-time employees will receive salary increases between one percent and two percent.  Mayor Fitzgerald noted that the budget was formulated during four budget review sessions, each lasting between three and four hours. Preparation of the municipal budget actually begins in October and ends the following spring. Upon submission of a recommended budget by township administrator Robert Bowden, the township committee meets at budget review sessions — it usually takes four of them, all open to the public — to review every line item of each departmental budget. These reviews are intended to ensure that appropriation requests are justified, and to make any modifications to such requests, as may be deemed necessary. Once the review process is completed, the budget is finalized by township auditor Robert Allison, formally introduced at a township committee meeting, and forwarded to the state for review, if required.

The township utilizes a zero-based budgeting format for budget preparation. In general, this format requires department heads to justify and itemize, in detail, all funding requests from zero dollars to the amount requested. Simply expecting automatic increases from prior year funding is not permitted, and a zero-based budget helps ensure more accurate budgeting and eliminate increased spending without detailed justification.coltsneckad1