HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — The township committee introduced a budget Monday night that would keep the tax rate unchanged for the second consecutive year, at 74.1 cents per $100 assessed value.
The $25.3 million budget is about $52,000 less than 2012’s and a little more than $1 million less than 2011’s spending plan.
Because the value of the average house in the township decreased by about $2,700 over the past year, the unchanged rate means the average taxpayer would actually pay about $20 less in township taxes. The average property assessed at $184,500 would owe about $1,367 in taxes.
“I think the key message here is government is not growing,” said Mayor Amy Gatto. “I think that the message we’ve heard from taxpayers over the last several years is government is not growing because we simply could not afford it.”
The recently stable tax rates follow several years of sharp tax increases. Between 2002 and 2012, state Department of Community Affairs figures show that average Hamilton Township residential taxpayers saw just the municipal portion of their tax bills increase by more than 120 percent.
Officials met a $2.4 million shortfall in 2011 by laying off 20 percent of its work force, including 20 police officers, and raising the amount paid on the average residence by two percent.
Michael J. Jacobs, the township administrator, led off Monday’s budget presentation quoting the 1980s TV show “The A-Team,” saying “I love it when a plan comes together.”
He said that township officials planned to pay down debt and rely less on borrowing, using money that would have paid for debt service to go toward the budget. Officials sought to remove a lingering structural deficit, while moving toward a pay-as-you-go structure for new expenses.
The current budget pays off more than $3.1 million in old debt, while proposing $1.2 million in other borrowing.
The township is keeping tax rates stable even as revenues decrease, Jacobs said, partially from nearly $400,000 less in grants and partially from tax appeals. The township anticipates losing nearly $270,000 between 2012’s and 2013’s appeals.
Salaries and wages are projected to increase by almost 3 percent, to $8.8 million, as the township anticipates hiring a new public works director. Even with that person, the township anticipates having 118 employees in 2013, down from 177 in 2007.
At the same time, a slightly better tax-collection rate meant that the township could drop the amount it had to reserve for uncollected taxes by 3 percent to $1.4 million.
Municipal taxes are just a portion of the typical tax bill, that includes assessments from the town, the county as well as the local and regional school districts. The township will hold a budget hearing April 1.
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