An increase in the school tax has taken Egg Harbor Township Committee members by surprise.

The committee is wondering why there is a previously unknown school tax rate increase of 7 cents and why no one knew about it despite weeks of careful examination of the books.

Township Committee members voted last month to set the school tax rate to no increase over the previous year.

Mayor James "Sonny" McCullough said Wednesday he first heard about the increase when the school district's auditor asked him if he realized there was a 7-cent tax responsibility for the schools. McCullough said he spoke that same night with Superintendent Scott McCartney and Business Administrator and board secretary Kathy Bechtel, who both said there was no tax increase this year.

McCullough said the increase could be related to a $28 million referendum voters passed in April 2008 to pay for school improvements, but he was unsure because he had not been given an explanation.

School officials said by e-mail Wednesday that the rate increase is due to a difference in fiscal calendars and that 2010 property tax bills include the second half of the 2009-10 school year budget tax levy, resulting in a 7-cent increase.

"This is not a hidden tax, just the result of the difference in years between the school district and the municipality," Bechtel said in an e-mail.

However, township officials and members of the Citizens Budget Commission said they feel they were duped by the school district because no documents they examined reflected the rate increase.

"The commission is extremely disappointed in not being provided with the carryover figure by the school administration and can only label this as deceptive," Charles Biscieglia, chair of the Citizens Budget Commission, said in an e-mail to township officials.

Voters rejected a proposed 13.5-cent tax increase in April, forcing the township to set the tax rate. After weeks of discussion and the Citizen's Budget Commission's recommendation, Township Committee set the zero rate increase and suggested the school system make up for the $3.48 million cut by switching to a health plan run through the state. The Egg Harbor Township Education Association made additional concessions, including a half-year wage freeze, to save teacher jobs.

"Here we sit thinking we all did a good job, we had the big meetings and we get down to zero," Deputy Mayor Stanley "Jake" Glassey said. "We were never told, ‘Oh by the way fellas, there's another 7 cents out there.'"

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