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Toms River Introduces Municipal Budget With No Tax Rate Increase

Toms River municipal building. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Toms River municipal building. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

The Toms River Township council on Wednesday night introduced the township’s 2022 operating budget, with spending remaining mostly stable and no tax increase proposed.

The township’s annual spending plan, which is subject to a public hearing and second vote before adoption by the council, is down from last year. Toms River will expend $133,524,805 in 2022 compared with $141,461,234 in 2021. The drop is not due to cuts in services, but rather the absence of an influx of pandemic-related grant funding the township received last year.

“The big difference is going to fall into the grant category,” said Chief Financial Officer Judy Tutela. “Last year we had several grants fall into our budget that are not recurring.”

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To support the $133,524,805 total budget, property owners will pay $88,536,066 in property taxes. That figure is largely similar to last year’s levy of $88,115,000, meaning the tax rate will remain the same in 2022 as it was in 2021. Some homeowners will pay more – or less – depending on their assessments in a recent revaluation that was ordered by the state.

For the owner of a home valued at $448,000, the township’s average, municipal property taxes will be $1,960. The remainder of the tax bill – about 73 percent – goes toward the public school district budget as well as several smaller taxing authorities such as Ocean County, fire districts and the county library system.

“In these times, it’s important to do everything we can to keep things stable,” said Business Administrator Lou Amoruso. “We’ve had cooperation from our eight labor unions as well as our confidential employees. We were able to settle eight labor agreements without having to hire outside labor counsel.”

While the tax rate remains stable, the cost of some budgetary items are increasing. Amoruso said the township will see an $816,000 increase in the costs of employee health benefits this year, however a switch to Aetna avoided a $2 million increase that was proposed by Horizon Blue Cross-Blue Shield, the previous benefits provider. The labor unions representing township employees have also agreed to consider a switch to the state health benefit system, which may reduce the benefits costs in the future. This year’s increase represents a 4.8 percent hike in costs.

The township was also ordered to pay an extra 5 percent into the state employee pension system – an increase of $486,000.

“That is part of governor Murphy’s ongoing plan to fund the stations pensions,” said Amoruso. “He’s shifting the burden onto the municipalities through property taxes.”

Next year “will see another large pension increase as the state fully phases in their assumed rate of return of 7 percent,” he added.

An unavoidable expense occurred early in the year, with the January 2022 blizzard plowing and cleanup costing about $600,000.

As 2022 rolls on, one of the township’s primary challenges mirrors the private sector – retaining employees. With 2021 being considered the year of the “Great Resignation,” Toms River lost 37 employees to retirement and 47 through resignations.

“Attrition is at historic levels,” said Amoruso. “At the spur of the moment, a lot of people felt they had the time in, and retiring was a better option. With the retirement of the full-timers goes a wealth of institutional knowledge that is not easily replaced. There is always a succession plan, but when these decisions are made quickly, you can’t go with that plan. Adapting on the fly becomes the norm.”

The township also had its workforce reduced, at times, due to changes in New Jersey’s family leave laws. Employees utilized 1,521 days of family and medical leave in 2021, and 430 days were lost due to Covid-19 infection.

Councilmen Daniel Rodrick and Justin Lamb both abstained from the introduction vote; the remainder of the council voted in favor of the measure.

The budget is expected to be open to a public hearing at the March 23 meeting of the township council.

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