BRIGANTINE — City Council declined to use FEMA money to reduce its upcoming tax increase as a majority of members cited uncertainty over future costs in the coming year.
The council met Wednesday night and decided not to change the tax rate in the 2014 budget that was introduced last month. The 3.4-cent increase will move the municipal tax rate to 52.2 cents per $100 of assessed property value and cost the owner of an average $499,316 property $2,606 in municipal property taxes. That is an increase of $170 from a year ago, or about 7 percent.
City Auditor Michael Cesaro
presented council with an option to reduce the tax rate as much as 0.9 cents, which would have saved the average homeowner $40. The city has received about $818,000 in FEMA money and hopes to receive a total of a little more than $2 million — which would cover 75 percent of the roughly $2.7 million in damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. The council could have used some of that money to reduce the tax increase.
Last year council bonded $2.2 million to begin the repairs and will pay off that debt over the next five years. Council decided Wednesday to use all of the FEMA money to begin paying it down.
The council vote was 5-2, with only members Andrew Simpson and Mayor Phillip Guenther wanting to use the money to reduce the tax rate.
But others said the council could not leave debt for future years. They noted the city faces uncertainty with costs next year, including lost money from tax appeals and possible deficits from beach tags and the municipal golf course.
Cesaro also suggested there is uncertainty over how much more, if any, FEMA money could be distributed to the city.
“We have a great deal of uncertainty with the FEMA calculation and what costs will be approved,” he said.
The council members also said if the city has a surplus from FEMA money after the end of the budget period they could apply it for tax relief next year.
The council will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. May 8 at the Municipal Building to approve this budget amendment, which must be approved by the state Division of Government Services. If everything is approved the council will vote to ratify the budget at the May 15 meeting at 6 p.m.
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