WILDWOOD CREST — The borough’s 2010 budget includes a 6.6-cent increase in the local purpose tax rate, due to increases in debt service, health care and salaries, borough officials said.

Borough Commission introduced the $21 million spending plan and accompanying tax increase at Wednesday morning’s regular commission meeting.

Under the proposed budget, the tax rate would increase from 49.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 56.1 cents, meaning the owner of a $300,000 home would pay $1,681.61 in local purpose taxes, up $196.61 from last year.

The total budget also is going up by $1.4 million compared with last year.

The tax levy, the amount collected from taxpayers, will be $12.83 million, up from $11.41 million last year.

Borough Clerk Kevin Yecco said the bulk of the budget increase can be attributed to debt service payments of $780,000, which includes the principal and interest on major projects, including the Seaview Avenue reconstruction work.

The remainder of the increase comes from an additional $450,000 in health insurance costs and contractual salary increases.

Yecco noted that Wildwood Crest’s employees now contribute to the cost of their health insurance. Employees hired prior to Dec. 31 pay 5 percent of their health insurance plan costs, while employees hired after Jan. 1 pay 10 percent.

The only employees not contributing are those working under the city’s PBA contract, which is currently in arbitration, and some EMTs and dispatchers, whose contracts have not yet expired. The borough anticipates those employees also will contribute to the costs of the health care plan.

Wage freezes are also on the horizon for the borough’s 99 full-time employees and six permanent part-time employees, Yecco said.

The borough has reduced its staff through attrition over the years and trained its employees to do other jobs as needed.

“There is a great deal of multi-tasking,” he said.

Yecco said the borough will hire more seasonal employees to work May 1 to Oct. 30, if needed, and no layoffs are planned at this time.

Mayor Carl Groon said later Wednesday that the commission did not want a tax increase, but it was necessary.

“It was absolutely difficult,” he said of the budget process.

“We did a pretty good job trying to keep it under control, but obviously we’re not happy with the outcome,” he said.

Groon said increases in health care and pensions jumped 15 percent. “We’re at the whim of the state,” he said.

As for the future, Groon said, “everything is on the table. We’re considering everything in terms of revenues and services.”

He also encouraged residents to meet with him to share their concerns about the budget.

Commissioner Joyce Gould also said she would be willing to meet with residents to discuss the spending plan.

“We worked very hard on this budget,” Gould said. “It is as low as we can go.”

Gould added that the borough did not want to lay off employees, and that the town must continue to support much-needed infrastructure improvements.

Groon similarly noted, “Going forward, it is critical for the borough to have an infrastructure plan that fits within the budget,”

Commissioner Don Cabrera, like Groon and Gould, said he would also be happy to meet one-on-one with residents about the budget.

Cabrera said the borough is coping with debt payments, lost revenues and a bad economy this year.

“I pay taxes here, too,” Cabrera said, explaining that he didn’t want an increase, either.

Cabrera said the borough operated with a “very lean” work force, and any further cuts would mean a reduction in the town’s services.

“If we like the way Wildwood Crest is today, and want to keep it that way. We’re all going to have to pay a little bit more to keep it that way,” Cabrera said.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at 9:30 a.m. May 12 in Borough Hall.

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:

609-463-6716