Toms River’s mayor administration introduced the township’s operating budget for 2023 at a meeting of the township council Wednesday night, marking the third year in a row that the proposed spending plan does not include an increase in property taxes.
Under Toms River’s system of government, the mayor introduces the annual budget, which is then reviewed and voted on by the council following a public hearing. That hearing will take is scheduled to take place April 26.
While the tax rate will remain stable, the overall operating budget will increase from $133,524,805 in 2022 to $140,897,783 in 2023. This is due to a number of factors, including revenue generated by a hotel tax, interest income cash-flow, construction revenue, user-base fees that were implemented over the past year, and the adoption of a new medical billing program. Cost savings and additional revenue streams were achieved by way of the expansion of shared services agreements with the Toms River Regional school district, providing IT services to Barnegat Township, providing solid waste collection services to Island Heights as well as the provision of $2 million in funding from Ocean County towards the federal beach replenishment project which would have otherwise been borne by taxpayers.
“We’ve settled with eight of our unions and the budget is sustainable moving forward,” said Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill. “We’ve also built in some increased revenue streams and efficiencies. This doesn’t happen by accident – I have to thank all of the department heads and staff who have worked hard on this budget to pull it together.”
The introduction of the budget did garner two dissenting voted from Councilmen Dan Rodrick and Justin Lamb. Rodrick said he voted against the proposed spending plan because it “kicks the can down the road” and does not prepare for future costs as overall appropriations still rose by more than $6 million despite being offset by other revenue sources.
“It’s going to jack up our taxes by more than $7 million,” Rodrick said. “This will hurt the taxpayer.”
Louis Amoruso, the township’s business administrator, said the budget does look ahead to future challenges. Toms River’s real estate market remains strong with ratables increasing, including commercial ratables such as the new OceanFirst Bank national headquarters being built on Hooper Avenue. Bonded debt is also expected to drop significantly in the 2025-26 time period, he said, and additional liquor license revenue is expected to develop. Additionally, interest rate revenue is at its highest level in several years and is not expected to drop in the short term.
“The Toms River real estate market is still robust,” said Amoruso.
The township ratable base rose slightly from 2021 to $20,343,613,100, the second year it eclipsed the $20 billion mark after falling as low as $12 billion the year after Superstorm Sandy struck. It hovered just below $15 billion before skyrocketing in 2021 during the pandemic-era real estate surge, and construction permit revenue has remained largely steady.
Still, there are fiscal concerns on the municipal level, Amoruso said. The state is expected to increase its assessment upon local municipalities to fund its pension system in 2024, the state’s minimum wage increase to $15 will be fully implemented by 2024 and will automatically rise each year thereafter, insurance rates are expected to increase by “double digits” in 2024 and inflation is expected to continue to raise the cost of goods and services, including fuel. Amoruso said there were also concerns about unfunded state mandates.
“The police body camera program was funded by a grant in year one, but now we have to cover those expenses,” he said, as an example.
The owner of a home valued at $444,340, the township’s average, would pay $1,943 in municipal property taxes in 2023 under the proposed budget. The municipal portion of the budget makes up 26 percent of a Toms River resident’s total property tax liability, with the bulk – 49 percent – going to the school system, with 21 percent funding county services. Open space and fire district taxes round out the remainder.
Toms River’s overall property tax bill still remains below both the state and county averages. Statewide, New Jersey residents pay an average of $9,490 annually, while the Ocean County average is $7,687. Toms River’s average in 2023, if the budget is adopted as proposed, would be $7,178.
“We’ve been faced with record inflation the last two years, and we’ll be introducing the third budget in a row that is zero, and I think that’s remarkable,” Hill said.