TOMS RIVER – One of the biggest issues in any town is its taxes. Coupled with the struggles of the Toms River School District losing a significant amount of state aid, financial troubles are on the forefront of voters’ minds as they head to the polls on Nov. 5.
Republican Councilman Maurice “Mo” Hill is running against Democrat Jonathan Petro.
For this newspaper’s election coverage, both candidates were asked the same three questions. Their answers will be spaced out over three articles in order to give them room to breathe. This is the first article. They were asked for their tax plan for Toms River. Next week, the candidates will talk about development issues in town.
Their answers are being presented alphabetically by last name. They have only been lightly edited for clarity and to provide definitions for terms that lay people might not know. More details about Toms River’s municipal taxes are at the end of this article.
Maurice Hill On Taxes
“We have not had an increase in the municipal tax rate in 3 years!” Hill said. “Toms River’s property taxes are $2,000 lower than the average New Jersey property taxes despite losing 30 percent of the Town’s ratable base due to Superstorm Sandy.”
The ratable base is the sum of all property values in a town. So, when Sandy wiped out scores of shore homes, there were fewer properties to tax.
“We will continue to look for opportunities for shared services with the state, county, Board of Education and surrounding towns,” Hill said. “For example, Monmouth County has a pilot program for a county-wide tax assessment program whereby they re-evaluate towns every 5 years. This would save the individual towns from having to contract for re-evaluations every 5-10 years.
“We continue to look for improved efficiencies. When we transitioned to Robo cans for sanitation and single stream recycling we only needed one driver per Robo truck as compared with the three sanitation workers we had on our older rear loader trucks. This saved us in personnel costs and worker’s compensation insurance premiums,” he said. “We have recently instituted Spatial Data Logic (SDL) which tracks our permits, OPRA (Open Public Records Act) requests and Code Enforcement notices and violations which saves time and manpower and allows our residents to access SDL from their home computers, laptops or iPads.”
“We constantly evaluate our Table of Organization to maximize our work force efficiency. Whenever an employee retires or leaves their job for another position our Business Administrator conducts a desk audit to evaluate whether or not the position needs to be filled with a full-time employee or can it be filled with a part-time employee or eliminated or merged with another position.
“The finance committee reviews health insurance policies to seek the lowest premiums while maintaining the health benefits.
“The smart redevelopment of Downtown Toms River and the Hooper/Caudina areas will provide increases in our ratable base and revitalize Downtown Toms River with increased commercial activity and jobs bringing more revenue to Toms River,” he said, referencing the spot off in the woods beyond the Seacourt Plaza.
“We have engaged a grant writer, James Rutala who has already secured numerous grants to Toms River such as bike paths, federal funding for the elevation and rebuilding of Herflicker Boulevard to reduce traffic congestion downtown and other grants.”
Jonathan Petro On Taxes
“Within the first 100 days in office, it is my intention to work with our town council to procure an audit of all township departments so that we can assess where cuts can be made and where we can curb waste,” Petro said.
“For too many years, our local government has been on autopilot, doing the same things over and over again with little consideration of cutting expenses,” he said. “Certain patronage jobs, particularly those that do not benefit our taxpayers, need to be cut.
“We can also look to our neighbors to discuss the possibility of shared services,” he said. “Additionally, we can look to certain tax incentive programs and state grants that may be available for us to make improvements without increasing taxes.
“Through the years, I’ve led for-profit and not-for-profit businesses through fiscal reorganizations to ensure sustainability,” he said. “It is my intention to bring in the right people to do that in Toms River.”
In 2019, the town raised $82,690,095 from taxpayers. The average home paid $1,739.81 a year in municipal taxes.
The municipal taxes have remained steady the last few years after a decade or so of increases. This year, some officials were concerned that the town used to much surplus to keep the taxes from going up.
To put it in comparison, ten years ago, in 2009, the town raised $47,985,468 from taxpayers. The average tax bill was $1,036.
Keep in mind the “average” tax bill does not include other taxing entities. By state law, the town collects taxes and then doles it out to the school district, the county, etc. This article focuses only on municipal taxes, the only taxes that the mayor and council have any kind of control over.