CRANFORD – While taxpayers will not see municipal taxes go down this year, the average homeowner can expect a $12.95 increase compared to the $39 they saw last year. In 2012 the increase was $110.
According to Township Administrator Terence Wall, although the total 2014 budget came to $34.8 million, only $22.7 million of that number will need to be raised by taxes because the township was able to apply $12.1 million from revenue sources which included state aid, grants and local fees and fines.
Among the revenue the township anticipated for 2014 included $2.9 million in state aid, the same amount the township received in 2013, with the remainder generated from grants and local revenue raised by the township. The township still had slightly over $4 million remaining in surplus for 2014.
Although in previous years department heads came to budget hearings bearing “wish lists” of things they wanted to be included in their spending plan, this year that scenario was eliminated early on, according to Wall.
“Cranford articulated a clear and straightforward process from the outset. All departments endeavored to include only that which was necessary to deliver the services Cranford residents expect,” said the township administrator, who came aboard four months ago when former administrator Joe Hartnett left after only a few short months working for the township.
None the worse for wear for taking on the 2014 budget right after stepping into this new position, Wall said the process went smoothly because department heads knew from the start that they had to pare down their budgets.
“In this way, we avoid the whipsaw approach of wish lists and slashing so common in municipal government,” said Wall.
The administrator said main drivers of the 2014 budget included $9 million for public safety salary and health benefits, $3.8 million for debt service, $2.7 million in expenditures mandated by the state, $1.9 million for Rahway Valley Sewerage, which handles the township’s wastewater and $5.1 million for municipal insurance and liability.
Wall noted the township also allocated $300,000 for capital budget improvements. Usually, money budgeted for capital improvements is used as a 5 percent down payment for bonding major infrastructure or other large projects that usually cost more than $1 million. Municipalities bond these projects because they can pay them off over five to 20 years.
According to the budget, the township committee approved a 6-year capital improvement plan of $14.5 million, which begins this year and ends in 2019. This means the township is putting $300,000 down towards bonding for these projects and the balance is payable over six years.
Included was $6.9 million for street and road improvements; purchase of vehicles and equipment, $1.8 million; improvements to the municipal building, $1.2 million; various sewer improvements, $3.3 million; and $1.2 million for municipal pool improvements.
Township taxes are just one part of property owners’ three-part tax bill which also includes school and county taxes. School taxes alone take up 55 percent of the three-part bill. However, the school district has not responded to requests for information about their portion of the taxpayer’s bill.
In late April the county approved the $504.9 million 2014 budget, of which $327 million has to be raised by taxes from the 21 municipalities.
While county officials indicated the average homeowner in the county would see an increase of $62, depending on the municipality, that number varies depending on the town.
For instance, this year, according to county figures, the average Cranford homeowner will only see a $4 increase. That figure, though, is not written in stone because every home is assessed differently.
However, the county indicated Cranford, in total, will be paying $291,752.68 less than they did last year.