WILDWOOD CREST — The local tax rate is increasing 1.9 cents under the borough’s 2013 budget.
Borough Clerk/Administrator Kevin Yecco attributed the increase in the rate and accompanying tax levy to increasing costs in a number of areas, including health benefits, debt service and contractual salary increases.
The 2013 budget totals $22 million compared to $21.4 million last year, an increase of 2.7 percent.
The tax rate is going up to 61.2 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation compared to 59.3 cents, a 3.2 percent change. The tax levy is also on the rise from $13.7 million in 2012 to $14 million this year.
The increase means properties valued at the average assessment of $400,000 will pay $2,640 in local purpose taxes, up from $2,574, or 2.57 percent higher than last year’s figure.
The borough will be paying another $220,000 in state health benefits and $140,000 more in debt service (which covers road projects and other infrastructure work).
In addition, salaries and wages are up $239,509 largely due to contractual salary increases.
The borough currently has 76 full-time employees, a decrease of about 15 percent since 2007.
“But costs continue to rise for New Jersey state health benefits,” Yecco said.
The borough routinely does not fill vacant positions and cross-trains employees to allow them to fill multiple roles.
Yecco said the borough’s financial picture remained bright given changes implemented within the last year including a new police contract, which made the path to the maximum pay longer and increased the number of steps in the salary guide.
The borough’s employees are also all contributing to their health-care costs a minimum of 3 percent, though Yecco noted that the costs continue to rise.
The current budget makes use of $1.68 million in surplus funds, but Yecco said the borough opted not to use all of its surplus to avoid the tax increase.
“Simply utilizing surplus is artificial at best because there’s no way to replenish what you take out,” Yecco said.
The borough currently owes $32 million including principal and interest for various capital projects, and while much of that debt is expected to be paid off this year, the borough is taking on a major capital project in 2014, reconstruction of New Jersey Avenue from Rambler Road south to the border with Lower Township.
“The governing body is committed to reducing bond indebtedness,” Yecco said.
Other contributions to this year’s increase is a loss of about $7.8 million in ratables, largely due to tax appeals.
Commissioner Don Cabrera said the borough had reduced staffing, but “there are costs that we can’t control, unfortunately.”
He said the borough had taken an aggressive approach to repairing its aging infrastructure, and in turn that meant the borough incurred debt that had to be paid.
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A public hearing on the borough’s 2013 spending plan is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 27 at Borough Hall, 6101 Pacific Ave., Wildwood Crest.