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Rising property values help ease budget pressure for some Cape May County towns

Leon Costello at Ocean City

Leon Costello speaks at the Thursday, April 11, Ocean City Council meeting.

Rising property values and increased development have helped some Cape May County towns, giving a little more spending power with the same tax rate, according to Leon Costello.

An Ocean City resident employed by the accounting firm of Ford, Scott and Associates LLC, Costello is the auditor for most municipalities in Cape May County. As the guiding hand for many governing bodies, he’s had a grueling few weeks as cities, boroughs and townships finalize their spending plans for the year.

Rising values have not allowed every municipality to avoid an increase in the tax rate, but according to Costello, in many towns an increase in the total assessed value has meant more money for local budgets without changing the local purpose tax rate.

For instance, in Ocean City, where City Council unanimously approved the budget April 11, the total ratable base increased by more than $133.5 million, for a total assessed value of $11.8 billion. That meant without changing tax rate from last year, 45.9 cents per $100 of assessed value, the city will have more tax revenue this year.

After a drop earlier in the decade, the city’s assessments have been climbing by a few percent each year, packing on more than $100 million in total assessed value in each of the past several years.

The approved budget for Ocean City totals $78.88 million, one of the largest spending plans for any municipality in the county.

Avalon also reported an increase in ratables this year, helping support its budget of $27.9 million. Officials there say the tax rate is 19.9 cents per $100 of assessed value. As with other rates included in this story, the Avalon tax rate does not include school or county taxes.

In Stone Harbor, the approved budget came in at $16.36 million. Officials there say the rate will increase by half a penny, to 25 cents per $100 of assessed value. Budget documents show an increase in ratables of more than $43 million.

Sea Isle City is one of the few towns to see a tax rate decrease this year. In his $24.6 million budget for 2019, Mayor Leonard Desiderio proposed a tax rate of 38 cents per $100 of assessed value, down slightly from 2018.

Upper Township recently finalized a $13.72 million budget this year, which includes a municipal tax rate of 19.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. Much of the township budget — more than $6 million — is covered by the state energy receipts tax paid for the township hosting the BL England electric generating station. For years, the township had no local purpose tax, and the current level is relatively low, but it is up 1.25 cents compared with the year before.

Members of the Township Committee were pleased with the budget, after looking at a much larger increase at the start of the year.

It was a similar story in North Wildwood, where City Council approved a $29.57 million budget on March 19, including an increase of 2.7 cents on the tax rate. The approved rate came in at 73.7 cents per $100 of assessed value.

“That still keeps as the lowest average property tax bill of any shore community in the state of New Jersey,” said Mayor Patrick Rosenello. He expressed pride in being able to provide extensive municipal services. North Wildwood ranks 20th out of the 566 municipalities in the state for property taxes, according to city officials there.

Lower Township’s Council approved a $28.19 million budget which increased the tax rate by 9/10th of a cent, which township officials described as a hike of $20 a year for the average homeowner. There, too, the township saw an increase in the total assessed value by more than $7 million, according to a budget summary presented to Township Council in February. The total township tax rate is 58.36 cents per $100 of assessed value.

In Woodbine, officials have again avoided a tax rate increase, which makes it 29 years in a row, according to Mayor William Pikolycky. On April 4, the Borough Council introduced a $2.5 million budget with a tax rate of 23.4 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Middle Township Committee on Monday approved a $22.17 million budget which does not include an increase to the local tax rate, set at of 48.3 cents per $100 of assessed value.

For Wildwood Crest, the $23.9 million budget included a rate increase of a half-cent compared with the rate of 67.1 cents per $100 of assessed value in 2018.

Spending in Cape May County towns varies widely. Cape May has approved a $19.35 million budget for 2019, one that anticipates more than $1 million in revenue from the room tax, while in nearby West Cape May, the budget is $2.6 million, still higher than the $1.88 million budget in Cape May Point.

Some municipalities have not completed the budget process. Wildwood’s public hearing and final vote on its $29.9 million budget is planned for 3:30 p.m. May 8 at City Hall. Spending is down compared with last year, according to a budget summary provided by the city, and there are fewer city employees this year. The budget calls for more than $20 million to be raised through property taxes.

Last year, a 9.9-cent increase in Wildwood’s local purpose tax rate was approved in July.

On Tuesday, April 23, Dennis Township residents have a chance to have their say on the proposed $4.8 million budget, one township finance director Jessica Bishop said will not increase the tax rate compared with last year’s 23 cents per $100 of assessment. The meeting starts at 6:20 p.m. at Dennis Township Hall, 571 Petersburg Road.

According to a township budget presentation, municipal taxes in Dennis amount to only 13% of the total tax bill. Another 7% goes toward the fire tax, with school taxes making up 65% of the total tax bill.

West Wildwood does not have budget information posted to its website and there was no response to a request for comment for this story from that small community’s Borough Hall. Last year, taxpayers slammed the $2.6 million budget, primarily over a plan to pay a court settlement and legal fees to of $1.7 million to police Chief Jacquelyn Ferentz

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