LIVINGSTON, NJ – If the 2018 municipal budget is adopted as introduced on Monday at the Livingston Township Council meeting, the tax rate will increase by 1.28 percent, or $38.06 to the average Livingston home assessed at approximately $617,440, according to newly appointed township manager Barry Lewis, Jr.
“This was a little bit of a whirlwind budget season for me with only a few weeks on the job, but I think we were able to pull together a responsible budget,” said Lewis. “I think that it’s good, it’s fair and it maintains services. Coming in sort of late in the process, I understood that the main goals were to maintain service levels, responsibly control any tax increase and maintain utility rates and services.”
One of the major highlights included an overall appropriations increase of 1.8 percent despite adopting an ordinance earlier in the meeting to allow for an up-to 3.5 percent increase. Lewis said he was extremely pleased with this number, which amounts to a total increase of $517,000.
According to Lewis, the two biggest challenges were the police and fire retirement system pension bill, which increased by $356,790 (or 20 percent) this year, and the cost of recycling, which increased by $132,000 because “the secondary market for recyclable materials really hit a nose dive.”
“Those two items together almost equal the entire appropriations increase,” said Lewis. “We were fortunately able to offset that by some savings in other areas.”
Another challenge was that non-tax revenues were lower than anticipated last year, according to Lewis, which limits the amount that the township can anticipate for 2018. Utilities, particularly water and sewer, also presented a challenge, he said.
“The goal was to take a look and see if we could maintain services and still maintain the same utility rates for the water and sewer,” said Lewis. “Because of that challenge, we currently have a water-purchase contract that will expire next year, and we anticipate negotiating and getting a better rate, which will make the financial picture of the water and utility better.”
Overall, the total amount that is being collected in taxes—with the combination of the appropriations increase and other revenues that were lower than the township was able to anticipate—is being increased by a little more than 2 percent, Lewis said.
“More importantly, and what really relates to the individual homeowners and property owners, is the tax rate,” said Lewis, stating that in this respect, the township benefitted from additional assessed values, some of the larger commercial properties at the Livingston Circle, and other projects. “The tax rate last year was 46.8 cents, and this is 47.4 [cents], so six-tenths-of-a-cent increase, which amounts to 1.28 percent increase in the tax rate. This is certainly a manageable sum, I think, for the residents, and particularly against the backdrop of maintaining all the services that they have come to expect.”
Lewis recognized Acting Township Manager Russ Jones and Chief Financial Officer Kim Kientz for laying the groundwork and giving him all the information he needed to assess the budget for 2018. He also thanked the department heads for answering his questions and providing input throughout the budget process.
“Obviously, I think with more time on the job, when I have an opportunity to really immerse myself in the organization, there will be potential for systemic changes, opportunities for efficiency, savings, new revenues and other things in future budgets—I just wasn’t able to do that in two weeks,” said Lewis. “But overall, I think it’s a good budget.”
Mayor Ed Meinhardt applauded Lewis for stepping in and doing a great job with the 2018 budget. The budget will be introduced once again during a public hearing in April. The public will be invited to provide input before the council adopts a final budget.