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Payroll down but taxes up

By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent

KEARNY –

Kearny should realize a savings of nearly $600,000 in payroll costs this year but that’s not enough to save local property owners from a projected municipal tax increase of $126 on an “average” house assessed at $100,000, according to Finance Director Shuaib Firozvi.

Overall, with the school and county components of the local tax levy factored into the equation, the average property owner should expect to pay an additional $212 for 2013, Firozvi said.

Municipal expenses are rising by 3.5% while school costs are up by 1.4% and the county by 1%, he said.

Municipal appropriations for 2013 are projected at about $74.7 million, up from last year’s total of about $74.1 million, and this year’s local tax levy will be about $38.5 million, $1.3 million higher than last year, Firozvi said.

Among the big spending increases this year are: $1 million for debt service, $500,000 for employee pensions, $200,000 for garbage service, $160,000 for employee health services and $50,000 for insurance.

It could’ve been worse were it not for the fact that between now and July 1, the town payroll will be 11 positions lighter via retirements, thereby slicing $590,000 in annual salary costs, Firozvi said.

At the May 14 Town Council meeting, Mayor Alberto Santos characterized the 2013 municipal spending plan as “a lean budget” with “no gimmicks in it.”

“Ten years ago,” Santos said, “we got $3 million more in consolidated municipal tax relief and energy franchise fees. That money is now being used to balance the state budget and the state has shifted the burden to municipalities.

“Part of the intent of that shifting is to get municipalities to shrink in size,” the mayor added, “but if this [trend] continues, we’ll have a real crisis in providing [local] services. … It’s a train wreck that’s going to happen statewide.”

At the May 14 meeting, the governing body voted for the introduction of an ordinance proposing to renew the town’s contract with Comcast of the Meadowlands to provide cable TV service to Kearny subscribers.

With the mayor and council adopt the ordinance at a public hearing set for May 28, Comcast would continue to provide cable service for 15 years and, in return, would pay Kearny an annual franchise fee amounting to 3.5% of its gross receipts from Kearny customers.

Additionally, the company would pay Kearny a “one-time, lump sum” fee of $45,000.

The previous agreement with Comcast had been for 10 years, with the company paying the town 2.5% of its gross revenues. Councilwoman Susan McCurrie, who chairs the council’s ordinance committee, said that a statutory regulation dictated the revised fee.

No other new features are provided in the new agreement, although Comcast would continue to provide a discounted rate to qualified senior citizens who receive the state’s Pharmaceutical Assistance to Aged & Disabled.

Comcast would also continue to offer, at no cost to the town, to hook up any municipal entity, such as the Board of Education, any public school, the Public Library, Police and Fire Departments, Board of Health or Senior Center, for basic cable service, provided an outlet is available.

At one time, Santos said, Town Hall had a link for cable service but he said it was disconnected because the town never saw fit to use it.

Comcast does provide for a public access channel which the town uses to broadcast tape-delay Town Council meetings and, periodically, local recreational events.

“We have no plans to create original content,” Santos said. “There isn’t the budget for staffing or equipment to do so.”

Santos said he’s unaware of any request by the Board of Education to air its meetings “but we wouldn’t object to that if the board did request it. We’d have no problem sharing time with them.”

Town officials were unable to say how many Comcast subscribers use the cable service. FIOS and online media have been competing to provide the same service.

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