LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - The Township Committee introduced a $19.7 million budget Thursday night that raises taxes by 2.9 cents per $100 of assessed value and puts any layoffs in the hands of employee unions.

The $19,768,067 budget is down $669,988 from last year, but the tax levy will increase by $102,487 to $14,242,765.

The tax rate per $100 of assessed value would increase from 45.1 cents to 48 cents. For the average home assessed at $300,000, that would mean an increase of $87 on the municipal tax bill.

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Mayor Ray Gormley explained the increase was due to a substantial decrease in the ratable base, a reduction in state aid of more than $300,000, and increases in employee pension and health care costs.

Gormley called this budget season one of the most difficult in his 11 years on Township Committee.

"These are trying times, the economy is not in good shape right now. We hope that revenues pick up and things return to how they were. ... But the next three to five years could be a trying time for everyone," he said. "There are difficult decisions that might have to be made, on both sides of the fence."

Township Administrator Garrett Loesch attributed the decrease in ratables to a decline in property values following a reassessment. Loesch said revenue into the construction office was also down.

"I personally tried to trim spending in each department without closing any positions," Loesch said. "And the department heads worked proactively to cut spending. If it isn't needed, we aren't spending money on it."

The budget calls for wage freezes but no layoffs, Loesch said, because the township used its surplus funds to prevent immediate job reductions. The retirement of three longtime employees in recent weeks also helped, he said.

However, Loesch said, layoffs would "definitely" happen before the end of the year if the township's major workers' unions - all of which are up for a new contract this year - do not make concessions.

"If we went into next year without recouping our fund balance, we're done," he said. "Not only would there be layoffs this year, the result next year would be even more devastating."

In addition to wage freezes, Loesch said the concessions could include salary reductions and furloughs.

The township will host an informal budget workshop open to all residents Thursday, May 20, in the courtroom of the Township Administrative Building on Radio Road.

The budget is expected to be posted on the township's website some time today to give the public an opportunity to review it.

Contact Robert Spahr:



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