BELMAR, NJ Most Belmar property owners will pay about $1.16 more a day in municipal taxes this year, under the borough’s proposed $16.62 million budget that includes a $1.44 million tax hike.

The 21.7 percent increase in the local tax levy — from $6.64 million to $8.08 million — is needed to address a bleak financial situation left by the previous administration, according to borough officials.

While Belmar homeowners have not had a municipal tax increase in eight years, it came at a cost — depletion of the borough’s reserve funds, said Chief Financial Officer Christine Manolio, who assumed the post shortly before the Republicans, led by Mayor Mark Walsifer, gained control of the borough council in January.

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“Pulling from your reserves is like pulling from your savings account,” Manolio said. “And there are no new reserves.”

The increase in the municipal tax rate — from 0.394 to 0.478 — will translate into an annual tax hike of nearly $422 on a home assessed at $500,000, she added.

Manolio and borough auditor Robert Allison will provide a budget overview before a public hearing and final vote on the measure is held at the borough council’s May 21 meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. at the Belmar Municipal Building, 601 Main Street.

To view Belmar’s proposed 2019 budget, click here.

Shortly after the GOP took control of the council in January, Allison was among a panel of newly appointed professionals who initially provided a sober picture of the borough’s financial health — and one of the first to foresee a substantial tax increase attributed to the depletion of reserves and surplus funds.

READ MORE: Belmar's New Professional Staff Sheds Light on Concerns Facing Borough

With debt reaching nearly $30 million and the borough spending about $500,000 more annually than it has been taking in for the past six years, Allison said that the borough experienced a 12 percent increase in expenses from 2012 to 2018 — with no property tax increases to cover those costs.

Under this year’s budget, overall spending will increase nearly 9 percent over the previous year, due primarily to several major factors:

■ An overall 6.7 percent increase in salaries and wages — from $5.07 million to $5.42 million—with the police department accounting for nearly one-half of the hike.

■ A 21 percent rise in police pensions from $465,503 to 563,300.

■ A jump from $125,500 to $350,500 in legal costs associated with lawsuits filed in previous years.

■ A $75,000 hike in engineering expenses to $125,000 for overseeing new projects and “closing out” completed projects.

In addition to the $16.62 million in its current fund, the budget totals $25.61 million when three other dedicated categories of revenues and expenses are included:

            ■ Water and sewer utility: $3.87 million.

            ■ Beach utility: $4.92 million.

            ■ Parking utility: $158,000.

During the borough council’s May 7 meeting, Mayor Walsifer acknowledged the difficulties experienced during this year’s budget-making process. “Not one of us sitting up here is happy about this budget. But it’s something that (has) to be done,” he said, adding that the upcoming presentation by Manolio and Allison will go into great depth about the budget.

Later, he explained that process has involved “going through every part of the budget to see where we can save money … and to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Walsifer specifically cited several examples of cost-cutting efforts aimed at improving the borough’s overall bottom line. These include reducing security costs by moving large special events to Belmar Plaza — a contained venue that places less of a strain on police resources — and by prohibiting charity runs and other events along the beachfront during the peak summer season.

It also has raised a variety of fees, including beach badge and locker prices, personal watercraft charges for nonresidents and fuel prices at the marina, as well as application costs for development/zoning permits. It currently is in the process of hiking rental fees for the Taylor Pavilion.

In addition, its first-ever Belmar Boat Show held last month has helped to bolster slip rentals at the marina, and Belmar Business Partnership is now picking up the cost of the borough’s Friday Night Concert Series.

Under shared services agreements, Belmar will receive $1.2 million in the fourth year of a 10-year contract for police services with Lake Como. Additionally, it will collect another $367,000 for shared services with three municipalities: Lake Como for code enforcement, municipal court and fire services; Spring Lake for financial officer, fire official and municipal court services; and Spring Lake Heights for police dispatch and fire official services.

Borough officials are quick to point out that many budget decisions are contingent on Belmar’s unique — and challenging — position as a seashore town that needs to ensure services and infrastructure can meet the demands of a community that swells to 75,000 people on a busy summer weekend.

Other budget highlights include:

■ Belmar will receive some $110,000 from payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements from businesses in its redevelopment areas — a $6,000 decline from 2018.

■ The total municipal tax levy includes a nearly $606,000 library tax, reflecting a tax rate of .036 that will result in a $0.003 increase in the library tax.

■ At the time of passage, the budget will include an unaudited surplus of $1.2 million.

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