WESTFIELD, NJ — The town’s $49.33 million spending plan got a green light Tuesday night. One Town Council member objected, and while some residents wrote to the town with concerns, no members of the public spoke at a hearing on the budget.

The budget will keep municipal taxes flat as the municipality sees assessed home values rise, following the town’s first major adjustment of home values in several decades. The revaluation has more than tripled the average assessed home value in town, which last year stood at $181,931 and is projected to rise to $795,159. The higher assessments have allowed for a lowered tax rate, officials said.

What will be my municipal tax bill? The owner of the home assessed at the town’s anticipated average value will pay $2,695.59 in municipal taxes this year, based on a projected municipal tax rate of $0.339 per $100 of assessed valuation, according to Town Administrator Jim Gildea.

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What will be my total tax bill? Total property taxes — including those paid to the school district, county and local library — are anticipated to be $16,730 for a home assessed at the town average based on a projected total tax rate of $2.104 per $100 of assessed valuation, according to Gildea. The figure marks a decline from the rate of $9.297 per $100 of assessed valuation, which the county tax board certified for Westfield in 2018. 

What do the budget's proponents say? “We have introduced a budget with a zero percent municipal tax increase, which is the first time that’s happened in decades,” said Mayor Shelley Brindle, shortly before approving the spending plan. “We are looking forward to passing this budget so that we can begin working on the many technology, equipment and infrastructure improvements that it enables.”

Read the town’s budget documents here.

Why did one council member dissent? The council approved the spending plan by a vote of 8 to 1. Councilwoman JoAnn Neylan cast the dissenting vote. Neylan said that while some people are excited that there will be no municipal tax hike said, she has concerns about the municipality’s use of surplus.

“We are growing the government in terms of events, in terms of increasing the size of the budgets of boards, teams and commissions all while using surplus, which took years of planning and controlled spending to achieve.”

Story continues after the video of Neylan.

What about those long-term investments? Councilwoman Linda Habgood, who chairs the council’s finance committee, said the surplus came from interest on investments.  “We put those dollars back to work,” Habgood said. “The municipal budgeting process is very conservative so you end up accumulating surplus.”

Town Auditor Warren Korecky said that the municipality should anticipate generating some surplus monies in future years. “You’re going to generate something back from operations. Assuming you’re going to generate back nothing, that’s a false assumption,” Korecky told the council, responding to Neylan's concerns.

Did the public speak at the public hearing? While nobody spoke at the public hearing Tuesday night, that doesn’t mean the public was not heard. The municipality sought feedback via email, and residents wrote in with concerns. The municipality responded with statements on the municipal website.

“Is there a plan in the budget to pave streets where the gas company replaced the gas lines?” one resident asked. “They patched the trenches and holes that were made, but it needs repaving.”

In the town’s statement, municipal officials said Elizabethtown Gas must repair the areas its workers have ripped up for the repairs, and its workers will return in the coming months to smooth over spots disturbed by the gas main improvements.

What about roadway repaving? “The town is currently formulating its own annual road paving program, which is paid for out of the annual capital budget which is separate from the municipal budget,” the statement said. “We are in discussions with Elizabethtown Gas to see how we can coordinate paving efforts with them.”

The council anticipates adopting a bond ordinance to fund its 2019 roadway-paving plan in the coming weeks, Brindle said. The town will then announce the list of roads it plans to repave this year, she said.

Can this budget change? There were no changes in the spending plan in-between its introduction and adoption, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be amended. Gildea said. “This is a moving, living document every single month of the year. Even though we’re approving it tonight, there are things that happen,” he said on Tuesday.

How about the budget for the Downtown Westfield Corporation? Council members also on Monday approved the budget for its special improvement district. It will not change the assessments on properties located with the special improvement district, Gildea said.

Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh

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