Preliminary Figures Project 1.52% Tax Increase for South Orange in 2014

Barry Lewis Jr., South Orange village administrator, reviews budget figures with members of the Board of Trustees at a workshop on Monday. In the background is Trustee Howard Levison. Credits: Amy Kiste Nyberg

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Village homeowners could see a tax increase of 1.52 percent for 2014, which means the owner of a home assessed at the village average of $460,274.42 would pay $67.58 more in municipal taxes next year.

Village Administrator Barry Lewis Jr. presented preliminary budget figures to trustees on Monday night at the first of a series of budget workshops. “I think this (tax increase) will come down,” Lewis said. “We’ll be able to … reduce the amount to be raised by taxes. I’m pleased with this as a starting point.”

The preliminary budget total for next year is approximately $33.8 million, an increase of less than 1 percent over the 2012 figure of $33.5 million. Taxpayers would contribute approximately $22 million toward the budget, with the rest coming from other revenue sources.

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“This is a preliminary look … at our 2014 budget,” Village President Alex Torpey said. “What all of us want to do is to bring down the increase as much as possible.”

Lewis said the 2014 budget maintains the same level of services as the current budget year.

In his presentation, Lewis provided more detail about what he called “items that have unusual adjustments.”

For example, the village anticipates adding an employee in the information technology area at a projected cost of $40,000. However, Lewis said that the salary will be offset by revenue generated through a shared-services agreement with Maplewood.

No increase was budgeted for police salaries, even though the police contract calls for raises. Lewis explained that the village would be able to hold the line on costs because of the retirement of officers who would be replaced by officers at entry-level salaries.

The village also will save money on utility bills in 2014 because it is not paying utilities for Village Hall.

Construction fee revenues have increased substantially because “activity levels just really exploded on us,” Lewis said, noting that Seton Hall University’s construction projects are partly responsible. Those revenues are estimated at $600,000 for next year.

The trustees took a close look at sewer user fees, noting that the village added a $25 surcharge in 2013 to sewer bills in order to cover the village’s share of litigation costs in a massive pollution lawsuit. That litigation is ongoing, but trustees seemed reluctant to impose the $25 fee for a second year.

Lewis also covered the capital budget, which pays for projects from money the village borrows. The preliminary capital budget was set at nearly $2 million. The major-ticket items on the 2014 proposal were the purchase of vehicles and equipment for the Department of Public works at $350,000 and money for street repairs at $1.49 million.

The two streets included in the preliminary proposal are Hartford and Glenview roads. The money also would cover improvements to Irvington Avenue, traffic safety improvement, and repair to curbs and sidewalks owned by the village.

No date has been set for the next budget workshop.

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