As it stands now, the township needs to close a $1 million gap to avoid a tax increase in this year’s budget.
Talking over the latest draft of the budget Thursday morning, the consensus among members of township council was none of them were terribly happy with the budget.
In its current form, the $22.9 million budget increases the tax levy by $1,011,900 from last year, a 2.6 cent (or 7.83 percent) increase from 2011’s tax rate. Based on that increase, a taxpayer with a home assessed at the township average of $529,800 would pay $1,896.68 in municipal taxes, a $137.74 increase from last year.
Because the township's budget didn't hit the state-imposed 2 percent cap last year, it was allowed (by law) to "bank" the difference and use it to offset the levy increase this year. The township's 2012 budget currently uses $725,277 of the $926,452 levy cap bank from last year's budget.
Trying to close the gap
Councilmen Greg Gallo and Mike Testa both said, if votes were taken today, they’d be a “no” on the budget, and none of the other council members seemed excited about it either.
But township manager Scott Carew was blunt about the realities of the budget.
“I literally don’t think we can close the gap in spending,” he told council. “If we’re looking at getting to no increase, that means we’re a million dollars away from that.”
One of the major drivers behind the size of the increase, Carew explained, was a significant dip in the township's available surplus. In 2008, the township used $4.7 million in surplus to close the budget gap and last year used $2.4 million. The 2012 budget only calls for $1.2 million from surplus, due to its depletion in previous budgets, he said.
On the bright side, Carew said, looking ahead to next year, “I believe the surplus will not be a million-dollar problem like it is this year,” partly due to an increase in commercial ratables (i.e. ) and .
Speaking of liquor licenses, township financial officer Tom Merchel had plugged $500,000 from the (projected) sale of one license into , which called for a 1.8 cent increase to the current tax rate. But that’s been taken out, Carew explained, because the township can’t budget that money until it actually has the check in the bank.
Also, the township’s state aid will stay flat from last year, at $1.8 million.
Carew said he was “comfortable this is a very responsible budget to continue to provide the level of service we’re providing.”
However, Testa said the township has “a spending problem.”
“As a taxpayer, I’m frustrated I’m paying more taxes for the same amount of service,” he said.
But Carew defended the budget, explaining the township has been faced with revenue sources that have either decreased or stayed flat (i.e. state aid, surplus) and expenses (i.e. health insurance) that have increased.
Though Carew was dubious about the township’s chances to shave $1 million from the budget to keep taxes flat, council members were not ready to surrender yet and will schedule another budget meeting at their regular meeting Monday.