As Toms River deals with its coronavirus response, the ghost of the last disaster – Superstorm Sandy in 2012 – lives on in the form of a $5 million bill from the federal government that has been slapped on the municipality.
Toms River officials introduced the 2020 municipal budget this week, which rose by $1,846,000 compared to last year’s spending and is $3,713,000 higher than last year’s introduced budget. For the owner of a $275,000 home – the township’s average – municipal property taxes will rise by $116. Overall, the tax levy will increase by 1.78 percent.
Township Administrator Don Guardian said officials were surprised several weeks ago when the federal government told them Toms River would owe $5 million that was provided in Superstorm Sandy relief. While the FEMA relief program was considered a loan, in most municipalities it was forgiven – at least partially. Toms River expected to have to pay back approximately $1.3 million, but was told about three weeks ago that the entire $5 million was expected. In response, the governing body added a $1.5 million payment to the budget. Guardian said he and other officials are working with U.S. Rep. Andy Kim (D-3) on the issue.
“We had anticipated, as most municipalities had in Ocean County, that it would be forgiven,” said Guardian.
A recent addition to the budget is $800,000 for potential costs driven by the coronavirus response.
“Certainly, we never want to come to you with an increase in the budget, which means an increase in property taxes, but I don’t think we have any choice this evening,” Guardian told township council members as residents watched an online feed and could submit questions in real-time via e-mail.
The township has started to lose money on building permit fees plus the shutdowns of the Bey Lea golf course and municipal ice rink. If the coronavirus issues last well into the future, the maximum impact will be about $800,000, representing the amount added to the budget.
“Normally I can be pretty precise as to what the issues are going to be, but on this one we really don’t know the affect it will have on the township, the budget and then future development in the township when it’s over,” said Guardian, warning of the loss of ratables in the future if real estate values are reduced.
To that end, Guardian said this year’s revaluation effort will likely be put on hold until the market stabilizes.
Finally, Toms River may also have grim days ahead depending on the outcome of the former Ciba-Geigy property, now owned by German conglomerate BASF. A tax court recent reduced the value of the property from $42 million to just $2 million, and BASF is seeking back-dated refunds for alleged tax overpayments that would cost Toms River in upwards of $15 million.
It is unknown how the matter will be settled, Guardian said.