We have been honored to have had many conversations with Sparta residents this year. We asked hundreds if they knew that a substantially larger budget was passed (4-1) by the Sparta Township Council this spring. We did not encounter a single person who knew that the new budget represents a relatively large increase, compared to last year's budget and especially when compared to last year’s actual spending. Why is it not well known? What are the reasons for such an increase?
Taxes are understandably a big issue in Sparta. We have the highest average property tax in Sussex County. We also make the highest average property tax contribution to the county government (now more than our local municipal tax). We pay the highest average school tax in the county.
Our election opponents both have had the direct opportunity and responsibility to favorably impact our property taxes and budgets – at the municipal and county levels – but have failed to do so in any meaningful way.
The approved municipal budget is now $28M, which is an increase of over $1 million from the prior budget, and is significantly higher than what was actually spent last year. The local municipal tax rate stayed essentially flat for the 2020-21 tax year. That’s right -- the new budget is over $1M larger, but municipal taxes are basically flat. (We are puzzled that one of our election opponents wrote that she is proud that the new budget is flat … well, it is not.)
Last year, Sparta received over $1.6 million (about 6%) in excess revenue. That is generally good news, but why didn’t our Council push to decrease taxes? Why did they approve rolling the excess revenue into an increased budget? Why are our county taxes so high, and increased another $635k this year?
We will fight to make the budgeting process more transparent and improve the ability for Spartans to understand and offer questions and feedback on proposed budgets through:
- Having substantive discussions concerning any increased spending before passage.
- Simple, user-friendly budget presentations that are publicly available when the preliminary new budget is discussed.
- Budget presentations that contain easy-to-read visuals (proposed vs. current, spending by category and department, non-tax revenue, major additions for upcoming year, etc.).
- Town website that includes an easy-to-find link to the proposed budget and supporting information (from proposal through adoption).
- On an ongoing basis, substantial changes in revenue (from taxes and other sources) and expenses are described and readily accessible.
Taxes and budgets are critical components of representation and leadership. We will work to make sure you are able to meaningfully participate in the budget process, and understand how the town is spending its funding. We believe that a more open dialog with you will make Sparta even better!
Bill Greenlaw and Dean Blumetti, Candidates for Sparta Township Council