Town Budget Will Cause $150 Average Tax Increase

Photo by Stephanie A. Faughnan

  HOWELL – Property owners should anticipate a $150 tax increase on the municipal portion of their taxes according to the budget that will be voted on May 9. However, this increase is only a portion of the total tax bill.

  The average annual tax bill is estimated to rise by $400, including taxes from the Howell and Freehold Regional High School districts, Monmouth County, fire districts, and open space. The local school district collects the most significant proportion of taxes, with nearly 46 percent of the total.

  Officials said the proposed municipal tax rate for 2023 is $0.336 per $100 of assessed property and that the average household assessment in Howell is $488,979.

  The budget adopted in 2022 totaled $55,562,000, while 2023’s proposed budget is $59,148,000. The $3,586,000 difference represents a 6.45 percent change.

  Township Manager Joe Clark said the budget process included discussing needs with various department heads. The goal was to use a conservative approach that also gave residents cost-effective, high-quality services.

  “We engaged in some horse trading among departments,” Clark shared. “Trading off what we need to do this year versus next.”

  One of the positives revealed in a recent budget presentation included a summary of the 2022 budget.

  “We were able to regenerate a significant amount of surplus back into the coffers based on our 2022 performance,” said Chief Financial Officer Louis Palazzo. “Construction permits, as well as some of the fees and permits that we took in, including a lot of the community development related fees and permits, helped regenerate a lot of that.”

  The 2023 budget will not use the entire $2.7 million surplus, as plans are to keep a healthy reserve. Instead, authorities plan to tap into just $650,000 of the reserves to lessen the proposed tax hike.

  Increases come from such issues as inflation and contractual obligations with employees. Five separate unions represent different classes of workers who serve the community.

  Total salary and wage increases for 2023 total in excess of $1 million, including an allocation of $384,500 to enhance school safety by adding three special law enforcement officers. The latter expense will be split with the Board of Education.

  “We have unanticipated increases in a lot of our expenses, including state health, increased pension costs, and increased liability insurance,” added Clark. “Health benefits actually went up $700,000.”

  Clark said that the local government would assume $460,000 of the increased cost for health benefits. Employees will make up the $240,000 difference based on a variety of factors. The township’s obligation towards employee pensions is up nearly $601,000 for 2023.

  Job vacancies that occur for any reason will not necessarily result in replacement hires. However, the township plans to add three new police officers, a code enforcement inspector, and an administrative assistant for a housing unit. The add-ons to code enforcement would be offset by increased revenue in the department.

  “Code enforcement needs help,” said Matt Howard, Director of Community Development and Land Use Officer. “Hiring one new inspector will give us one person dedicated solely to housing…Also, the nature of our department is there’s a big administrative task for landlord registrations and certificate applications.”

  The 2023 budget also includes a provision for the hiring of two full-time EMTs for the overnight shift. This, coupled with bringing back one of Howell’s ambulances, allows for more consistent emergency services coverage throughout the community. Insurance payments made to the squad defray most of the EMS cost.

  Other budget challenges include increases for gasoline, diesel and asphalt needed to repave the roads.

  Clark said his review of a draft efficiency study concerning township operations should be finalized by mid-May. In the meantime, he’s decided to employ some of the suggestions that appear to have merit.

  “We’re revamping bulk pick up, which should save us $50,000 to $100,000 a year,” Clark shared. “We’re going to rework our drop-off yard.”

  Howell officials anticipate increasing revenue through various means. Among them is a heavy concentration on increasing fines for landlord violations. Other code enforcement issues include problems with vacant and abandoned buildings and their prospective removal as part of a proposed demolishment program.

  According to Clark, local taxpayers pay an average of $8,400 in annual property taxes. The average for Monmouth County is $10,000; the state average is $10,000.

  “We think this is a reasonable solid budget,” said Clark. “We’re in a very odd situation economically, and we think this spares the taxpayers as much as possible while still meeting the township’s budgetary needs.”