Budget Proposal Trimmed; Tax Increase Below 1% in South Orange

South Orange Trustee Steve Schnall listens closely to a review of the 2014 budget proposal. In the background are Trustee Walter Clarke and acting Village Clerk Shinell Smith. Credits: Amy Kiste Nyberg

UPDATED Feb. 8: 
SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Village officials trimmed the 2014 budget plan, resulting in a projected tax increase of less than 1 percent for the first time in nearly two decades.

The Board of Trustees reviewed the budget figures during a final workshop on Thursday. The 0.97 percent increase means that the owner of a home assessed at the village average of $459,859.87 would pay $42.93 more in municipal taxes this year. Previous projections called for an increase of 1.52 percent, a $65.58 increase (see story here). 

“We maintain staffing, we maintain services,” Village Administrator Barry Lewis Jr. said.

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He said that the 2014 budget likely will be introduced in March. The total budget is $32.9 million, with $21.8 million raised by taxes. The municipal government’s share of the overall property tax bill is approximately 27 percent, according to Trustee Deborah Davis Ford. The county tax makes up about 18 percent, and the school tax accounts for the remainder of the tax bill.

Trustees also reviewed the capital budget, which at nearly $2 million remained largely unchanged from the last workshop. Three projects that will be funded under the first phase of borrowing are information technology equipment purchases ($100,000), a call recorder system for the police department ($30,000) and street and curb work ($1,485,000).

 In addition, a special sewer charge will carry forward from last year. A $25 surcharge was added to sewer bills in 2013 to cover the village’s share of litigation costs in a massive pollution lawsuit. “This litigation continued on a lot longer than we anticipated,” Trustee Sheena Collum noted.

Collum pushed for answers on several projects she is spearheading. One is the resurrection of a First Night celebration. “There needs to be some sort of seed money,” she said. Lewis noted that money could be found in the budget to help fund the event.

She also wanted to make sure that funding could be found for any studies needed for development of Irvington Avenue and that the capital budget could cover some renovation of police headquarters.

Lewis wrote in a follow-up email to TAP of South Orange to clarify that there was was money available in the budget to cover the anticipated $15,000 cost of a redevelopment study for Irvington Avenue should the committee make that recommendation and the Board of Trustees agree. 

Regarding the police headquarters, Lewis wrote that since the proposed capital budget is below "the amount of borrowing that could be authorized utilizing the existing and 2014 budgeted monies in the Capital Improvement Fund," the board has the option to amend the budget to add projects.

Two members of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee who attended the workshop said they were pleased with the outcome.

UPDATE: This version has been updated to clarify the discussion about the Irvington Avenue and police headquarters projects.

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