SOMERSET, NJ - Franklin Township amended its 2020 budget to tap into its fund balance to halt a planned tax increase. After introducing a budget last month that included a 1.75 percent increase in the municipal tax, the council voted to amend the budget to lower the amount raised by taxes from $37 million to $35 million in response to the economic hardship caused by COVID-19. 

“We have decided to use more of the fund balance so that we do not have to raise the levy,” Mayor Phillip Kramer said during last night’s virtual council meeting. “There will be no tax increase, we meant to increase it before but because of what’s going on and the financial hardships we decided to use the fund balance to pay for it and this amendment is to put in a 0 percent tax increase.”

Kramer said that the township is waiting on guidance from the state to see if there will be a delay or grace period for the payment of property taxes. 

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“We don’t know where that’s going,” he said. “Trenton is sometimes as hard to predict as the virus is, so I can’t offer a prediction for sure.”

The $62 million budget passed last night is a 1.45 percent increase over last year, due to increases in dept service interest on bonds to pay for capital projects like the youth center on Louis Street, salary increases and tax court settlements. Before the amendment removed the tax increase, the average home in Franklin -- valued at $344,430 according to Township Manager Robert Vornlocker -- would have paid $1,164 in municipal taxes, an increase of $4.77 compared to last year. 

The average home value also went up due to a 3.73 percent rise in the township’s assessed valuations, bringing the 2020 total to $10.5 billion. 

Still, the municipal budget without counting the library tax increased by 1.46 percent from last year versus a 1.55 percent increase in 2019. 

Vornlocker said increases in spending were offset by a $550,000 decrease in staff health insurance costs, total departmental expenses lowering $86,000 and a 23 percent reduction in the utility budget since 2014 thanks to the township’s efficiency efforts. 

“Franklin Township has so many positive things in development,” he said when the budget was introduced in March. “However, these costs and continued services require a careful balancing act between providing maximum quality services to the community, capital and repair costs and maintaining taxes at a reasonable level.” 

The council also tabled an ordinance passed on first reading last month that outlined the quarantine and isolation procedures in the township. 

Kramer said after consulting with council members and Township Attorney Louis Rainone, the ordinance is no longer needed. 

“It’s really kind of out of date for what’s been happening,” he said. 

The legislation was recommended to the township last month by Dr. Namitha Reddy, the Somerset County health officer and director of the Somerset County Department of Health, which also serves as the township’s health department. Its language came from a state law on communicable diseases. The county recommended the township pass the ordinance after it found Franklin wasn’t in compliance. 

Somerset County Administrator Michael Amorosa said last month that all towns should have it and that the ordinance was a “paperwork thing that was not in place in Franklin.”

Despite the recommendation from the county, township officials doubted its necessity at the time, citing Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive orders and powers already in place at the county level. 

In another move to help residents impacted by the economic fallout resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, the council passed a resolution last night donating the $2,000 raised at the Franklin Day Festival to the Franklin Food Bank. 

In his comments, Councilman Ram Anbarasan urged residents to donated to the food bank if they can. 

“The Franklin Food Bank is under a lot of stress in terms of feeding the countless unemployed,” he said. “Every dollar we donate is equal to three dollars in terms of their buying power … So anything you can do to help out fellow citizens will be greatly appreciated.”

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