Tax appeals and expenses from Hurricane Sandy are forcing Brigantine to make difficult choices this year as it assembles the city’s annual budget.
The beach community, which is about to restart a revaluation postponed by the storm, now faces the prospect of either cutting services or increasing the tax rate by more than 6 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
“Over the past few years, we’ve lost about $2 million a year in revenue from the (tax) appeals,” City Manager Jennifer Blumenthal said.
According to data compiled by Bowman & Co., the city’s auditing firm, tax appeals resulted in the loss of $192 million in property value between 2012 and 2013. The city also saw nearly $11 million in new ratables due to additions and new construction in the last year. Another factor contributing to budget woes is about $370,000 in emergency funding related to Sandy.
Preliminary budget calculations would necessitate a 6-cent tax increase to a local rate of 55 cents.
If that rate stands, it would mean properties valued at the average residential assessment of $499,316 will pay $2,746 in city property taxes, up about 13 percent from $2,436 paid last year.
Blumenthal said that because the city conducted its last property revaluation at the height of the real estate market, appeals have become a regular problem.
A citywide revaluation begun last year was put on hold as the city cleaned up from Sandy, she said. That process will begin again in May.
“They won’t have to redo all the inspections, but they will need to assess some inspections from before,” she said.
Fortunately, Blumenthal said, assessors had not reached the north end of Brigantine, an area that sustained significant damage from Sandy.
One possibility City Council has discussed is combining the roles of the city’s beach patrol, fire and police chiefs into one public safety director position.
Blumenthal said preliminary calculations show that such a move could save about one and a half of a chief’s salary. Currently, the three chiefs’ salaries are about $125,000 each.
Mayor Phil Guenther said City Council will discuss the possibility, but he doesn’t believe it will solve any problems.
“From a practical standpoint, if you don’t have a chief, then you have captains in both the police and fire department who will be eligible for overtime,” he said. “Their base salaries are not that much lower than the chief’s. With overtime, they could achieve a chief’s salary.”
Guenther said he believes the city already has good leadership of its departments.
“Right now, we have a community that’s very safe,” he said. “Are they willing to risk that to make a change that may or may not result in any savings?”
Blumenthal said City Council will continue discussing the budget at its March 6 meeting. It will likely introduce a budget at a special meeting, she said, since the deadline is March 15.
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