The Toms River Township municipal budget includes a small tax increase, but falls well below the state’s 2 percent cap on expenditures, officials said.
The township council introduced its $125,558,744 2017 spending plan Tuesday night, which will be supported by an $82,590,921 property tax levy. The tax increase will be less than one cent per $100 of assessed real estate value, adding up to $22.81 per year for the owner of a home valued at $250,000. In all, the budget calls for a 0.05 percent increase.
“It is also a comfortable $2.5 million under the 2 percent tax levy cap,” said Mayor Thomas Kelaher.
Officials said the township is still feeling the effects of Superstorm Sandy, which decimated Toms River’s ratable base. The storm impacted more than 14,000 properties in town – 3,795 substantially damaged – and reduced the tax base by about $2 billion. There are still 450 homes under construction and 329 outstanding elevation permits, according to township figures. Of the $2 billion that was lost, $800 million has still yet to regenerate, Shives said, though the township is hoping a combination of rising property values on the barrier island and the impending dune and beach replenishment project will help spur more homeowners to rebuild.
Most year-round residents have returned, and the bulk of the outstanding properties to recover are owned by secondary residents who either did not have adequate flood insurance payouts and, due to their part-time status, did not qualify for state recovery programs.
Shives said officials anticipated there would be no more grant programs run by the state to bridge the gap between the lost ratable base and the budget this year, so they implemented a plan developed over the last several years to attempt to avoid what could have been significant tax hikes.
“This 2017 budget will keep property taxes as low as possible while maintaining the quality of essential services,” said Kelaher.
The budget reduced “other expenses” by 3 percent, reduced administrative salaries by $46,000 and increased wages and benefits by 1.74 percent. All collective bargaining agreements with employee unions call for salary increases below 2 percent, reflective of the cap. The budget retains 160 police officers and reserves $10.5 million in a state-mandated fund for uncollected taxes.
Shives said the budget keeps municipal property taxes in Toms River 8 percent below the Ocean County average. The budget reflects only the municipal budget – the Toms River Regional school district has yet to announce its 2017-18 budget.