LOWER TOWNSHIP — Council is using last-minute budget cuts and tapping more surplus funds to produce a 2010 spending plan without a tax increase.

The new $23.9 million spending plan was revealed Monday night but will not be voted on until the May 17 meeting.

Township Auditor Leon Costello said $1,030,000 was saved with 60 percent of it coming with budget cuts that do not lay anybody off but do not replace six workers who will retire this year. Overtime also was reduced by 25 percent and $260,000 more in surplus was used.

“That’s terrific,” said former mayor Jack Sparks, who has pushed for budget cuts.

“The road to zero is zero and that’s what you folks have done. You brought it to zero,” Sparks said.

Some residents argued the cuts were too deep and would create bigger problems next year, especially if the state changes the cap on tax levy increases from 4 percent to 2.5 percent.

“Everybody thinks it’s great at zero. I’d rather pay $5 more a month than let people lose their jobs next year,” said Robert Bailey, a township worker.

Retired township police Detective Frank Majane said the cuts go against advice given by Costello at a meeting two weeks ago.

“Next year you may be up a nickel. Is this an election year ploy?” asked Majane.

The state cut its aid by $393,141, or almost 20 percent, this year, and Mayor Mike Beck said the state has hinted that using tax increases to make up for 2010 state aid losses may result in even higher aid cuts in 2011.

Beck defended the use of surplus by noting school districts that built up a surplus suffered bigger state aid cuts this year. The budget uses $2,160,000 from surplus, leaving behind just $783,190. Last year there was $949,299 left in surplus.

The budget worries Police Chief Ed Donohue, who is asking that no more officers be eliminated through attrition. The department had 55 officers in 1995 and now has 42. Donohue said the department has the lowest number of officers for residents in Cape May County at less than 2.3 officers per 1,000 residents. Donohue asked that the number not go below 42 officers.

Deputy Mayor Kevin Lare pushed for a budget with no tax increase.

“People hurting the most will be helped the most with this budget. I don’t agree with the theory you have to spend more this year so you can spend more next year,” said Lare.

Council also discussed trying to get $335,000 in excess funds at the local Municipal Utilities Authority, but decided not to go that route. All residents here do not have public water and sewer service.

“I don’t believe the proposal has merit. I don’t believe we should take ratepayers’ money just like they shouldn’t take taxpayers’ money,” said Councilman Wayne Mazurek.

The proposed budget is at $23,948,037, down from $24,600,928 last year. The amount to be raised by taxes, however, would rise from $17,214,611 to $17,699,055. New ratables will make up the difference. The 12-story Grand at Diamond Beach condominium project is bringing in $400,000 in new tax revenue this year.

The tax rate under the budget would rise by 6.6 cents per $100,000 of assessed valuation to a new rate of 43.2 cents, but a recent reassessment of all properties reduced the ratable base by about $700,000 by devaluing properties. This caused a tax rate increase.

Costello said with adjustments for the reassessment the tax rate is staying the same as last year.

A list of the budget cuts shows the police were hit the hardest with cuts of $236,000 followed by the Public Works Department at $167,000. Salary and wages remain the main expenditure at $9.9 million, but this is down by $273,673.

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711

    -30-