Local taxes up again in borough

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


Borough residents should be getting their property tax bills by the first week of December, CFO Steve Sanzari said last Thursday, after the Borough Council finally adopted the 2014 municipal budget.

Passage of the budget, introduced back in July, has been delayed since then because members of the governing body – faced with local elections earlier this month – couldn’t agree on the final numbers.

But the process was pushed along by the looming threat of the state Local Finance Board dictating an outcome that, officials said, could have been far more distasteful.

Had they not acted when they did, the borough faced having no revenues coming in since they’d have been unable to mail out bills without a county-certified tax rate, starting the new year with an operational deficit and $25-aday fines to individual council members for each day after Dec. 31 that the budget was late.

As it is, the adopted 2014 budget, after amendments, calls for expenditures of $21.55 million (up from last year’s $20.18 million), of which $15,875,961 must be raised in local taxation (up from $14,657,457 last year).

According to the CFO’s calculations, that translates to a nearly 8% increase on the local tax rate for municipal purposes only or a hike of about $254 on the “average” house assessed at $319,000. The county share of the budget is expected to have “zero” impact while the local school portion figures to add on about $14 for a total impact of $268 on a total tax bill of $9,220 (up from last year’s $8,951.).

For the local spending document to be complete, however, the borough was relying on the Passaic Valley Water Commission to approve at its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 18, a legal settlement that would pay North Arlington $325,000. Both sides have been in negotiations for many months over alleged overcharges the borough claims it’s owed.

Only Council President Al Granell voted against the amended budget. In a prepared statement, Granell said he was “dismayed that the council did not join me in working to lower the tax levy for our residents as promised at the budget introduction in July.”

Granell said that several alternatives to lower the levy “have been presented for the council to consider for many months but did not garner the support of a council majority. I firmly believe that the Borough Council next year and in coming years will have to seriously consider and implement some of those options, including shared services and merging of services and basic municipal functions.”

And Mayor Peter Massa, a Democrat, who will cede his post to Republican Councilman Joseph Bianchi on Jan. 1 after having lost a re-election bid Nov. 4, said the council should follow the lead of Kearny and other municipalities in pressing the state to “help compensate us” for providing municipal services to “tax-exempt properties” owned by non-profits and the like because “it’s becoming more of a financial burden … on our seniors and homeowners who account for 85% of our tax base.”

Borough spokesman Thom Ammirato said this year’s tax increase was driven by $1.35 million in unexpected costs, outside the state-mandated 2% budget cap, including $307,000 for snow removal, $422,000 “to bolster the reserve in uncollected taxes” and $276,000 “to increase debt payments.”

Additionally, he said, the borough was directed by the state to reserve $125,600 in FEMA revenue for 2013 to pay down special emergency debt and to “reduce revenues by another $123,000 for the current year’s anticipated FEMA aid.

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