BELMAR, NJ It came down to the wire for the borough to finalize a budget with the least impact on taxpayers. But in the end, municipal taxes will rise 1.9 percent under a $17.9 million budget approved by the Belmar Council.

And that translates into a municipal tax increase of $14 on a home assessed at $500,000, said Mayor Mark Walsifer before a July 21 public hearing and final vote on the measure.

The new spending plan — nearly $1.13 million higher than last year’s 16.8 million budget — includes a local tax levy of $8.84 million, compared to $8.69 million in 2019.

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After the budget was introduced on June 16 with a proposed 5 percent tax hike, the borough’s financial department took another deep dive into numbers and was able to reduce the municipal tax increase to 1.9 percent, Walsifer said.

“When (the budget) was introduced two meetings ago, it was still a work in progress. The finance team took a real hard look at it — what we spent on COVID and things shutting down — and went through it with a fine-tooth comb … and did a great job doing that,” he said, referring to Chief Financial Officer Ricardo Llanos, assistant CFO Christine Manolio and auditor Robert Allison.

Under the amended plan, the biggest change was increasing the borough’s anticipated surplus by $279,000 to $2.14 million — a nearly 60 percent increase over the $1.17 million in surplus realized in 2019.

The 2020 budget sharply contrasts with last year’s spending plan, which included a 21.7 tax increase — an issue addressed by Councilman James McCracken following the council’s unanimous approval of the plan.

“We made a big correction last year that put us on better financial footing.  But we’re still dealing with bills of the past,” he said. "A correction doesn’t happen in one year; it takes a couple of years.”

READ MORE:  Belmar Council OKs $1.4 Million Tax Hike, Forensic Audit of Former Administration’s Financial Books Under Way

McCracken explained that in the month following the budget’s introduction, the borough’s finance team listened to feedback from the public and held one-on-on meetings with council members.  “We found areas where we could be a little more conservative,” McCracken said.

The result is a “strong conservative budget that is in the best interest of Belmar residents. They were kept in mind during this entire time,” McCracken said. “The tax rate is at the lowest we can possibly get and continues to put us on solid ground.”

While the budget uses reserve funds to keep taxes down, “we will try hard to cancel appropriations throughout the year, if we can,” he said, adding that the spending plan “does not compromise any services Belmar residents are receiving.”

Under this year’s budget, overall spending will increase nearly 6.5 percent over the previous year, due primarily to several major factors:

  • Debt service costs will climb 40 percent — to $2.11 million — based on the following breakdown: payments of bond interest from $185,000 to $747,00, bond principal payments from 555,000 to $950,000 and bond notes from $342.300 to $413,741.
  • An overall 3.4 percent increase in salaries and wages — from $5.42 million to $5.61 million — with the Police, Public Works and Recreation departments accounting for the largest hikes.
  • A 16.1 percent rise in police pensions from $563,300 to $661,988.
  • A 10 percent increase in contributions to the public employees’ retirement system from $254,175 to $280.061.
  • A hike in engineering expenses from $125,000 to $155,000.

On the revenue side, the borough expects to receive the following:

  • $1.2 million in the fifth year of a 10-year contract for police services with Lake Como.
  • $344,000 for shared services with three municipalities: Lake Como for code enforcement, municipal court. fire official and other fire services (capital outlay); Spring Lake for fire official and municipal court services; and Spring Lake Heights for police dispatch and fire official services.
  • $1.2 million in marina slip rental fees after realizing nearly $1.3 million in fees in 2019, and $1.1 million in fuel sales. 
  • $120,000 from payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements from businesses in its redevelopment areas — a $10,000 increase from 2018.
  • $299,000 reimbursement of coronavirus-related expenses through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Other highlights:

In addition to the $17.9 million in its current fund, the budget totals $26.8 1 million when three other dedicated categories of revenues and expenses are included:

  • Water and sewer utility: $3.87 million, compared to $3.91 million in 2019.
  • Beach utility: $4.91 million, compared to $4.92 million in 2019.
  • Parking utility: $123,000, compared to $158,00 in 2019.
  • The total municipal tax levy includes a nearly $605,705 library tax, a slight decline from $605,922 raised in 2019.

 

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