Government

Livingston Municipal Budget Presented with 1.3 Percent Tax Increase

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Barry Lewis, Jr., presents his first Livingston municipal budget as township manager Credits: Danielle Santola
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LIVINGSTON, NJ — The average Livingston homeowner will see a tax rate increase of 1.3 percent, or $37.53 to the average Livingston home assessed at approximately $617,445, if the township council adopts the 2018 municipal budget as presented on Monday by Township Manager Barry Lewis, Jr.

“I think this is a good, responsible budget,” said Lewis, who added that he believes the $37.53 increase is manageable for most households. “It continues to fund all of the services we want with a fairly minimal impact on the taxpayers.”

This budget has changed slightly since it was introduced in March to include new ratables that resulted in an increase on the average assessed home. After being sent to the state for approval, which the township is required to do every three years, the budget was amended once again to include two issues the state had regarding to the amount appropriated for interest on the water and sewer utilities.

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Lewis said that a public hearing will be held at the May 7 meeting for the amendment to the budget, but that the amendment does not affect the current numbers. Once the amendment to the budget is adopted, the mayor and council will vote on the final budget.

“I got here late, but my charge from the governing body was that we’re not looking to cut services and that people have come to expect certain levels of services,” said Lewis, whose tenure as township manager began officially on March 1. “We want to continue to deliver that and we do so in this budget.

“This [budget] covers all of our agreed union contracts; there was an additional new ratable of $70 million that came on the book, so that helped make up the difference between the levy at 2.2 percent and the increase in the tax rate, which is the impact on the homeowners; we have shared services (largely from Millburn) from which we benefit; and this budget does maintain our current staffing levels, so no drastic cuts that would reduce service.”

Lewis explained that when a resident or property owner pays taxes in Livingston, 59.6 percent of the resident’s tax dollars go to the public school system, 21.9 percent goes to the county and 18.4 percent goes to the municipality.

“We control less than one-fifth of your tax dollars,” said Lewis. “We do the best we can to control our increases, and wherever we can cooperate with the school [in] shared services, we do so—but the overwhelming majority of the budget is out of our control.”

In taking a 10-year look back to the 2008 municipal budget, which saw an 8 percent tax increase to the average homeowner, Lewis discovered that the average increase over the last five budgets has been 2 percent. In other words the total tax levy increase from 2008 to 2013 was 4.1 percent, but has been consistently held down to 2 percent over the last five percent.

“That’s certainly a credit to the mayor and council and their hard work and all department heads and everybody being fiscally sound toward the taxpayers’ money and looking for efficiencies,” said Lewis.

In summarizing the 2018 budget, Lewis first explained that the largest percentage of the money to support the municipality comes from property taxes (77.8 percent), followed by state aid (6.7 percent); fees, permits and licenses (4.3 percent), construction department and fire inspection fees (2.9 percent); general and capital surplus (2.4 percent); cable/Verizon fees (1 percent); and the remaining 5 percent from reimbursements, grants and shared services, court revenues, interest on taxes/investments and other miscellaneous revenues.

The municipal budget is spent on public safety (33 percent, or about $14.8 million); debt/capital projects (10 percent, or about $4.5 million); public works (10 percent, or about $4.4 million); as well as the library, trash and recycling, administration, building and code, utilities/street lighting, Senior, Youth & Leisure Services, health and human services, engineering and planning, reserve for tax appeals, court and insurance. The remaining 9 percent ($4 million) is included in the budget for miscellaneous use, he said.

The 2018 budget as introduces authorizes $4.3 million in capital spending, according to Lewis. The general capital, which comes out of the operating fund paid by tax dollars, covers the resurfacing of public street and roads; public works vehicles and equipment; Senior, Youth & Leisure Services improvements, including the refurbishment of Littell People’s Park; police and fire equipment; and more.

“Everything under our capital program under New Jersey law has to be something that has more than a five-year useful life,” said Lewis.

During Monday’s meeting, the council adopted four bond ordinances authorizing funding for the recently approved capital program, which includes water utility improvements, pool utility improvements, sewer utility improvements and various other improvements.

In order to complete significant upgrades and repairs, including the replacement of aging water mains and other improvements, the water capital is budgeted at $3.35 million. The sewer capital is budgeted at $1.63 million for similar necessary improvements to the water treatment facility and pump stations.

Lewis noted that water and sewer are two separate utilities with two separate budgets funded by collected fees. He said that these two budgets maintain service levels, fund additional operational upgrades and enhancements that are necessary but do not qualify for capital funding, and do not increase the water and sewer rates or the pool membership fees for 2018.

“I just wanted to say thank you very much to our town manager, Barry Lewis,” said Mayor Ed Meinhardt. “He started on March 1 and has done a great job getting us to where we are. Special thank you to our CFO, Kim [Kientz], for all the work that you’ve done as well; and as well as to [Assistant Township Manager] Russ Jones, who has done tremendous work for this town over the last 16 months and the last 45 years.”

The final vote on the budget was delayed due to the pending public hearing of the amendment to the budget. Following the public hearing at 7:30 p.m. on May 7, the mayor and council will vote on the budget as presented on Monday.

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