BRIGANTINE — City Council approved its 2013 budget Wednesday, which includes a nearly 7 percent tax increase, but members have an eye toward no tax increases for the future.
The budget was passed along party lines, with the five Democratic members approving it and the two Republicans, Andrew Simpson and Mayor Phil Guenther, opposing.
The $30.6 million plan increased the local tax rate by 3.4 cents to 52.2 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The owner of the average residential property in the city of $499,316 will pay $2,606 in city property taxes. That is about a 7 percent increase from $2,436 paid last year.
The budget increased by about $2.5 million, but it includes a special grant this year for $1.4 million to reconstruct Brigantine Boulevard.
The two Republican members had proposed reducing the tax rate by another 0.9 cents, which would have meant a savings of about $40 to the average homeowner.
“This budget year is different from other budget years,” said Guenther, noting last October’s Hurricane Sandy. “People have had a lot of out-of-pocket expenses.”
Simpson, who is serving his first year on the council, said he voted against the budget because of his campaign pledge for no higher taxes.
But the other members said they felt it was important to ensure a stable situation for future years by paying down its debt incurred from borrowing $2.2 million last year for Sandy-related repairs. They also wanted to keep money in reserves due to concerns about lost revenue from tax appeals and also uncertainty over how much FEMA money will be reimbursed to the city.
“We’re moving to a good sound financial foot,” said member Rick DeLucry. “We have to start somewhere. We’re starting here.”
The budget does not include layoffs, furloughs or a reduction in services.
Councilman Frank Kern challenged the city’s staff for future budgets to include no tax increase.
“That would be my challenge and I think we can meet it,” he said.
Also at the meeting, the city announced that Brigantine Boulevard will not be closed during scheduled reconstruction work between Monday and July 4th weekend. Instead lane shifts will be in effect.
Local business owners were concerned about people being unable to access their properties during the construction. Work will be done Monday to Thursdays. The project will stretch from 29th street to 32nd street and include the traffic triangle at 30th.
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