PORT REPUBLIC — While most neighboring municipalities will impose steep tax increases or cut staff and services, this small city plans to decrease the local tax rate by 4.6 cents. It has been able to do so because of a minimalist government and a public that has grown fond of a simplified life. The city provides few services — and its residents largely do not want more.
“For all the years I’ve lived here, it hasn’t changed that much,” said Councilman Robert Haviland, 74, a resident since 1947, “and we don’t intend to change it that much.”
About 1,200 residents live on less than eight square miles of land here, where there are no sidewalks and motorists line up their cars on Wednesdays and Saturdays to dump their garbage at the city’s trash collection center, also known as the dump.
Trish Zatorski, 37, moved to Port Republic seven years ago after living in Barnegat Township and on Long Beach Island. She said her family has all it needs in the city, and actually enjoys how quiet and uncomplicated their new lives are.
Zatorski strolled around the park near the beach and athletic fields near Main Street, pulling her 22-month-old daughter Juliet and her friend’s 3-year-old Ava Cooper in a plastic wagon.
“Even though we don’t have sidewalks, everyone respects the fact that everyone goes for walks,” she said on a sunny Thursday afternoon when bicyclists cruised nearby.
In fact, the city plans to reduce the speed limit on every city street to 25 mph on Tuesday at the same meeting where the council plans to approve its budget. It is one of a half-dozen laws the city plans to approve, the most Mayor Gary Giberson said he can remember seeing on one agenda in his 25-year tenure.
This year’s $1.15 million budget will pay for five full-time employees. State Police from the Tuckerton barracks patrol the city, and various other services are outsourced to its giant neighbor, Galloway Township.
Last year, the average homeowner with a property valued at $156,220 paid $968 in taxes toward city government at a rate of 62 cents per $100 of assessed value. With a proposed tax rate of 57.4 cents per $100 of assessed value, homeowners are expected to pay about $40 less.
The municipal budget has to be small. There are 455 residential properties and only 12 commercial properties, putting the city near the bottom of the list statewide in terms of commercial value.
That leaves the taxpayers to shoulder much of the burden, and provides a strong disincentive among voters for expanding government.
With that in mind, the city’s council has been notably tight with its purse strings. Capital projects are few and rare, and when the municipality accrues debt, it pays it down quickly, raising taxes if necessary to do it more quickly.
“The city is very fiscally responsible,” said the government’s part-time auditor Ken Moore, who said the council has rarely used one-time revenues and consolidates whenever possible.
This year, after losing about $36,450 in state aid, the city simply chose to delay the purchase of a backhoe. This year’s budget would be even smaller than it was in 2002 if not for a $150,000 grant that will go directly to road work.
The people who live here say they prefer the simpler lifestyle the city affords and do not ask the government to do more than plow the roads, spray for gypsy moths and light fireworks.
Zatorski said there are other little joys her family has found here, aside from taxes being lower than in Ocean County.
“It’s fun going to the dump,” she said about the convenience center on Wrangleboro Road where residents with permits issued from the city get rid of their refuse.
Jimmy Milton, 44, ate a hoagie from Port General Store in the shade Thursday after mowing the grass near town hall. The public works supervisor is one of only two people in the whole department, which he said is all the city needs to handle plowing the few, short local roads.
“We stay busy,” he said.
Milton moved to the city eight years ago from Galloway. He said it didn’t take long to find that although Port Republic may lack some of the services and infrastructure of his former home, there are things he enjoys just as much.
“If it’s past 6 o’clock, over on Chestnut Neck Road, you could drop a quarter and hear it echo,” he said. “That’s how quiet it is here.”
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