Brigantine’s local tax rate will increase by 42 percent in a draft budget to be discussed today at a public workshop.
The proposed budget includes a local tax rate of 74.2 cents per $100 of assessed value. That means properties valued at the average assessment of $366,000 will pay $2,714 in property taxes compared with $1,910 last year. The total does not include other taxes, such as schools and county.
Due to a 26 percent decline in average assessments, however, many property owners will see a less dramatic increase. Before last year’s citywide revaluation, the average assessment was more than $499,000. The proposed tax rate would mean a $108 increase from last year for the average property owner.
The draft budget’s total tax levy is nearly $24 million, within the state-mandated 2 percent cap.
Factors that have continued to affect the budget include tax appeals, which forced the city to borrow another $1.4 million in January; a growing deficit at the municipal golf course; and outsized labor costs, which account for about two-thirds of spending.
In 2014, the city’s surplus is slated to double to $1.4 million, but City Manager Jennifer Blumenthal said January’s bond to cover tax appeals is being held in that account.
“It’s really a fictitious inflation of the surplus, because we have to pay that money back,” she said. “Really, the surplus has been trending downward.”
A February report by the city’s auditors shows the deficit at The Links at Brigantine Beach is expected to grow to $765,000. That’s even worse than a November forecast that estimated a $547,000 deficit. The golf course utility fund, which was at nearly $1 million in 2011, is expected to drop to about $2,000 this year.
The Links was initially profitable when the city acquired it with the help of Green Acres funding in 2002. But a combination of the recession, damage from Hurricane Sandy and faltering infrastructure have driven away golfers.
In the last year, the city has mobilized to revamp the golf course. A master plan expected to outline necessary upgrades is expected this spring. Meanwhile, a committee will meet next week to discuss how to attract a third-party operator who could absorb more of those costs.
Meanwhile, the report shows that insurance and pension costs are expected to increase by $338,677 and $192,621, respectively.
Despite those increases, salaries and wages in most departments are expected to decrease.
“A lot of those costs have been reduced by attrition,” Blumenthal said.
Financial administration, for instance, will see salaries decline by nearly two-thirds to $56,000. Last year, Chief Financial Officer Chris Johansen left his position. Other staff and part-time employees have filled his duties.
In recent months, the city has also sought to fill vacancies in its public safety departments with part-time employees, such as the two Class II officers who were approved Wednesday for the Police Department.
Brigantine is also in the midst of labor contract negotiations with its beach patrol, fire and police employees. City officials have pledged to curb pay increases and eliminate certain benefits, such as longevity pay.
Anne Phillips, of the Brigantine Taxpayers Association, said a 22-cent increase to the tax rate is “unsustainable and an unacceptable burden” on residents. It’s the result of issues with the golf course and labor contracts that have continued for years and even decades, she said.
“The chickens have come home to roost,” she said. “Taxpayers can no longer afford and should no longer have to pay for the generosity of the past.”
At least one source of financial strain may be alleviated in 2014. The finalization of the citywide reassessment, which was delayed due to Sandy, is expected to greatly reduce the number of tax appeals filed by property owners in recent years.
Once all current county and school taxes are factored in, a property assessed at $366,000 would pay $6,493. Since not all of the new rates have been adopted, that estimate is likely to change.
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