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Average Tax Bills to Rise $79 a Year Under Proposed Township Budget

Loss of valuation, fixed cost increases largely to blame for budget growth, administration says

The Township Council unanimously introduced a 2012 municipal budget Tuesday that will raise taxes by an average of $78.86 a year if adopted in its current form.

A spate of successful tax appeals and a township-wide loss of assessed valuation contributed to a proposed $100,681,043.31 spending plan that is 1.65 percent larger than the 2011 budget, Administrator Paul Shives said in a press briefing before the Township Council met.

The 2012 budget will be funded in part by a $65,017,507 tax levy that is $3,537,600 greater than the $61,479,907 2011 levy. Residents at the township average assessement of $355,056 would pay $19.72 more a quarter, or $78.86 a year.

Reduced Base, Fixed Costs

Shives said the administration largely kept expenditures flat in the 2012 plan but was challenged by a lack of revenue.

"Our problem was not on the expenditure side, the problem is on the revenue side," Shives said. "That is a direct result of the problem we have with tax appeals."

Since a revaluation of properties in 2009, the township has seen more than 7,000 tax appeals as the housing market soured and residents challenged their valuations. Shives said the township had to reimburse taxpayers more than $2.3 million after the 2011 budget was adopted as a result of successful appeals, which then negatively impacted their ability to formulate the 2012 plan.

More than $600 million in assessed valuation was lost from 2011 to 2012, Shives said, and the township is down almost $1.3 billion in assessed valuation from the 2009 revaluation.

Given the reduced base of valuation, the administration was forced to raise the tax rate before increasing spending in any budgetary line item.

"To raise the same amount of money, the tax rate has to go up. There's no magic. There's only two sides of that equation," Shives said. "If the assessed valuation goes down, the tax rate has to go up to raise the same amount of money."

The 2012 budget employs a .3749 tax rate, a 1.4-cent rise over the 2011 rate of .3613.

However, Shives and Mayor Thomas Kelaher hope to eliminate the ongoing problem by conducting a township-wide reassessment of properties. The Township Council unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday supporting a tax assessor request to conduct a reassessment.

The mayor and administrator said the township would conduct a reassessment largely in-house, at a cost of around $100,000, rather than contracting with an outside firm. The administration hopes to complete it this year so the property assessments are valid for the 2013 budget process.

"It has to get done. It's absolutely critical," Shives said.

Elsewhere, the administration dealt with rising fixed costs that contributed to budget growth.

For example, the township's health insurance costs went up 14 percent from 2011, or $1.8 million, with $26,837,927 budgeted for insurance and employee benefits alone. Shives said the administration debates the merits of different insurance arrangements annually, but in 2012 it was "still more cost effective to stay where we are."

Toms River also didn't see much help from the state, which kept aid flat at the 2011 amount of $8,492,807.

Stable Services, Employee Concessions

Despite the revenue challenges, Kelaher made clear to the administrator that 2012 was "not the time to be cutting services when people can least afford to pick up the slack."

The proposed budget does retain all programs, services and employees, although the township has lost 37 fulltime jobs from 2008 to 2012 via attrition. Shives said vacant positions will only be backfilled when necessary to avoid a cut in service.

For the second straight year, there will be no increase in salaries and wages. 

Kelaher and Shives praised the eight bargaining units in the township, who negotiated with the administration to accept a variety of cost-saving measures the past two years, among them: six unpaid furlough days among the Teamsters and Supervisors' unions; voluntary furloughs for employees in the Clerical union; a new salary scale for employees in the Community Service Officers union; and a reduced salary scale for new members of the PBA.

"Without the collective bargaining units, this (the budget) would not be possible," Shives said.

The mayor said a "culture of trust" has developed between the employee unions and township.

"They understand we're telling the truth. They've all been very receptive," Kelaher said. "If we didn't have cooperation from them, we would have had a serious problem."

All eight contracts will be negotiated when they come up within the next two-plus years, Shives said.

"It's not adversarial," Kelaher said.

The administration also saved money by focusing on reducing overtime costs over the past four years and has lowered the expenditure by 41.5 percent during the time period.

"We're very proud of that fact," the administrator said.

Department spending is down by 10 percent in almost all cases except where it was impossible, such as the legal department, which has dealt with the increased tax appeals.

The 2012 proposed budget also continues existing shared services agreements with other municipalities and entities, such as building inspection services with Brick and trash and recycling collection with Ocean County College. Shives said the search for sensible shared service accords is an ongoing process.

In the current environment, the budget process itself is one that never truly ends either, Shives said.

"A good budget is like a good pool game. You set up for the next shot," he said.

The Toms River Council will hold a public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. May 1 at .

Securevelope March 28, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Mr.? - thanks for the info. Sadly I can't afford to do this if like HR says I'll need an attorney. Rip-off artists that the township is, they have some nerve to charge a fee to FILE an appeal and I'm the one doing all the work for it. HR - ah... good ol' Jeff Horn. He was my divorce lawyer and ripped me off of $900.00. When I brought that to his attention he told me to stuff it. Worst divorce lawyer ever. He didn't even fight for what was rightfully mine and ten years later I'm still suffering the consequences of his game of "let's be the nice guy in this." It is true that nice guys finish last. Absolutely true. I'm going to look into this appeal anyway. I should have some free time tomorrow and I'll get to a realtor for the start up info and go from there to the tax assessor. We'll see, cross my fingers I can afford this and get back what's rightfully mine. Needless to say, I DID bitch at the time I had to go over to the firehouse and do whatever it was we had to do then for this revaluation process. I brought what other properties were going for with me and they flat out refused to listen. I had to bite my tongue and leave.
Mr. ? March 28, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Securevelope, you don't need an attorney. Even if you wanted one they will ask for half of what you saved , although you may have to pay them up front and wait for the tax credits you will receive. If you are not greedy with your decrease request you may receive a settlement in the mail and never go before the tax board for a hearing. Usually, as you would net 50% of your savings the first year, you would reap the savings in the following years. Fortunately or unfortunately, that wont apply in 2013 because the Township tax assessor will be doing an entire reval in house. If you do your appeal yourself you only stand to pay $25 assuming your home is under 500K. Just be careful that your comps are more than 15% below your assessed value. Also of note if you are totally wrong in your comparison (unlikely) your assessment could also increase, but very unlikely
Securevelope March 28, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Ah understood. I had gone to that Zillow.com site in July last summer. My house went about $80K down from what it valued it's resale value at in June on that same site. Granted it's not very accurate but it's definitely less than I owe on it! I'm pretty pissed. I'll find out more tomorrow. If they're reassessing the houses would I be better off just letting that take place and eating my losses at this point? I'm so terrible with all this tax stuff and find it really difficult to grasp and understand. My other half is much better at the math that is more complicated than balancing a checkbook!
Mr. ? March 29, 2012 at 03:41 AM
Getting late, but you stand to save a lot of money! If 80k below comparable values could save you big bucks. If you are in a 350k home, 15% would reduce it to 300K which might be an average situation in today's market and the decrease in values since the reval took place. You could save (just to shoot a number) $500 - 700 or more! In that example divide your tax bill by 7 and get your savings ( 350k divided by 50 k = 7. A $4500 tax bill divided by 7 would net you $642.00 in savings. Now I am no expert, and am only speaking in generalizations and this is my understanding. Call the OC tax board!...and its not complicated math!...just some effort
michael April 01, 2012 at 09:56 PM
IT IS THE VOTERS FAULT KEEP ELECTING THE SAME GOOD OLE BOYS INTO OFFICE AND WATCH AS THERE SALARIES RISE AS YOUR TAX RATE DOES .

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