Budget Meets Council’s Goal for Tax Increase

Jefferson Township Council vice president Jay Dunham asked for a budget that would hold the tax rate to an increase of no more than $30 for the average household. “You got your 30,” Mayor Russell Felter told the council after a long budget session and the news that an employee was resigning. That brought the tax levy down enough to keep the tax increase in check.

It wasn’t until the day after the Wednesday, March 28, council meeting that the township’s financial officer, Bill Eagen, actually set the rate. Based on the total value of the municipality ($2,647,536,900), each percentage point of the tax rate is $30.02. The amount the township must raise through taxation is $23,083,663.25.

Using these figures, the owner of a home of average value will see an increase in taxes for municipal purposes of $28.12. The average home is valued at $300,226 – an increase of $289,300 over last year’s value.

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The tax increase for municipal purposes does not include the library tax, which is set by state mandate; the garbage rate, which is set by contract; or the municipal open space and recreation trust fund. Those added taxes will bring the increase up to about $35 on that average house, Eagen said. Of the $94.5 million increase in the assessed value of the township, he added, only about $5 million is because of new construction. The rest is from the increased value of existing properties.

The township has been practicing “rolling assessments,” Eagen explained. This means the tax assessor evaluates a certain percentage of properties in the township each year. While some residents have complained that their properties are over-valued, Eagen explained that this saves the cost of periodic revaluations, which saves all taxpayers money. It also cuts down the number of tax appeals each year, again saving money. According to Eagen, Jefferson is the only municipality in Morris County to use rolling assessments, but the practice is spreading around the state.

Residents won’t know their entire tax bill until the county and school district announce their budgets. The majority of the tax is for school purposes.

The finance officer said two nor’easters that canceled council meetings in the sprawling township made this an unusual budget season. Normally, the council has one meeting to discuss the budget and another to finalize and introduce it. This year, the discussion and introduction came in one extended meeting. The public hearing will be held on Wednesday, May 2.

Eagen said the council could have waited until the regular Wednesday, April 4, meeting to introduce the budget and still have it advertised in time for a public hearing on May 2, but they decided to go ahead with the introduction.

Township auditor Jim Cerullo told the council that using $2,190,000 from surplus would keep the tax rate reasonable and still leave enough in surplus for emergencies. He also said there is still enough in the snow removal fund to handle a normal November and December 2018.

He cautioned the council that any further reduction in the tax levy could only result from a cut in staff or services.

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