10% Municipal Tax Hike for Red Bank; Mayor and Council Should Go Back to School!

For the very few who tuned into the May 13th meeting of our Mayor and Council, you may have heard Finance Committee Chair, Councilman Michael Ballard, state the current proposed 2020-2021 municipal budget would raise the municipal budget by 10%.

Editor's Note: To watch the video of the meeting, click HERE.

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It's been years since Red Bank has had a steady tax rate or held the line on the budget compounded by year-over-year excuses. These excuses have been just that, excuses, with the Mayor and Council not making any hard decisions to keep costs in check as we elected them to do.  

In my opinion governing body and Business Administrator have done absolutely nothing to curb the cost of Borough operations and their apparent outlook to the future seems to be status quo; tax, tax, tax with no accountability.

The current health crisis has and will continue to transform into an economic crisis that threatens all our residents and businesses.

Let me point out some immediate impacts to our municipal budget related to revenue for our Borough operation.  Immediately lost was: revenue from parking fees, hotel occupancy taxes, sewer and water fees and construction permit fees - all lost revenue.

This at a minimum, could be hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars depending on how much longer the stay-at-home order and business closures/restrictions last.

Even more concerning is to see the financial struggles, now known nationally, of the Count Basie Center for the Arts (Count Basie Theater) estimated to lose $25 million in revenue during this health crisis compounded by their major multimillion-dollar expansion.  

For anyone who knows Red Bank it is hard to not see how much Count Basie is the corner stone of bringing thousands of people into our town visiting the scores of excellent restaurants.

Should the Count Basie shutter during this economic crisis it would significantly compound the damage to Red Bank’s economy.  Major news sources confirm that the theater industry is in an untenable environment and Red Bank should be very concerned about this.

Aid from the State is also a means of revenue to the Borough that is in peril. Last month the State of New Jersey reported a $3 billion shortfall in tax revenue. This staggering number going into a new State fiscal year, now delayed until September, most certainly could be an indicator that municipal state aid will be reduced or maybe even altogether eliminated.

These loses in revenue from multiple sources must be considered now or else we will be facing significant tax increases in the coming years.  Preparing for the worst now is the only prudent path forward to maintain the solvency of our Borough government.  

I again call for the Mayor and Council to immediately implement the following budgetary controls:

Initiate a spending freeze on all discretionary spending and request proposed budget cuts starting at least 2.5% preferably at 5% and challenge all Department heads to propose upwards of a 10% budget cut.

I would also like to send our Mayor, Councilmen, Councilwomen and Business Administrator ‘Back to School’.  

Typically, you would hear a tax payer complaining about school district taxes but in Red Bank this is not the case and the governing body of Red Bank should take a lesson from them. Thankfully, our Red Bank Municipal Schools are run by a world-class superintendent in Dr. Jared Rumage. 

Between the Superintendent and the School Board Finance Chair, Board Member Sue Viscomi, they developed not only a responsible budget to the school children they serve, but were considerate of the residents and businesses in Red Bank.

The School District considered the growth in the tax base and weighed it against their operational and education requirements to create a transparent and solvent budget. Please look for yourself at their fantastic work: https://www.rbb.k12.nj.us/Page/1267. This budget did raise the budget but considered the tax base and that equates to a reduction in the tax rate for most property owners (business and residential) in Red Bank.

Well done Dr. Rumage and Board Members, as your intensive work should be an example for our Mayor, Council and Business Administrator.  We should all be proud that you run our schools in Red Bank and your educational services are desperately needed for our politicians.

The school board’s budget presentation is very transparent and easy to understand; this is what our Borough should be presenting to the Borough during the 2020-2021 budget hearing. Year-over-year the Borough feels it's appropriate to simply post the municipal budget form provided by the State and believe that they are being transparent.

It’s crap, and we should not accept an 80 plus page document that most residents can not understand.  Rather, our elected officials should present a budget plan like our school board. This presentation should contain all the revenues lost, costs controls in these hard-financial times and plans looking forward to keeping the Borough operational.

All of these factors we are looking at have negative consequences, including halted or rescinded projects in the Borough that would fortify and raise our tax base, the loss of small businesses and devaluations in home values.

This all means higher taxes with no cuts. It only gets worse in the coming years with tax appeals filings going up and the rate of successful appeals going up leaving the Borough responsible to pay those appeals back. Again, more and more taxes. 

Property owners should no longer be an endless means of revenue for the Borough of Red Bank.

Will our Mayor and Council go back to school and learn their lesson? I guess the budget hearing will be the final exam!

Stay Safe and Healthy,

Thomas R Wieczerzak