Municipal taxes wont rise (again) in Harrison

A look at new development in Harrison.

For the past six years, the Town of Harrison has been growing in population and that growth has triggered a demand for increased public services.

During that time, the town has responded to that need by hiking local spending for those services while still managing to keep local taxes at reasonable levels.

And 2022 is no exception.

“Although the town has not yet received a 2022 certified tax rate (pending certification by the state), we anticipate that inclusive of the school and county (tax) levies, the average taxpayer in 2022 will pay only $140 more than in 2016 — an average of $23 per year or one-quarter of 1%,” said Gabriela Simoes Dos Santos, the town’s chief financial officer.

“In fact,” the CFO said, “the average homeowner will pay less in municipal taxes in 2022 than they did in 2016 — approximately 3.5% less.”

The total municipal tax increase on the average home with an assessment of $447,600 is reckoned to be $1.20, according to the CFO.

And, “Despite lowering the tax levy, the mayor and Town Council increased spending in key areas, including additional police officers, firefighters and state-of-the-art equipment to augment public safety,” Dos Santos said. “The town has invested capital funds in addition to seeking grant money to upgrade all of the playgrounds, resurface the soccer courts and build a brand-new, multi-use sports field on Harrison Avenue.”

Additionally, she said, the town “has acquired five acres (of land) to build an open space park (off Cape May Street and the river) and has purchased property to expand affordable housing.”

“All of these goals have been accomplished without incurring debt,” she said.

And, Dos Santos said, the town has done this and more “while limiting the cost of providing services to our growing town to 1.5% over the last six years in the face of a national cost of living increase of almost 17.5%.”

An analysis of Harrison’s 2022 municipal budget shows that while total appropriations are projected to climb, from about $49.7 million in 2021 to approximately $51.5 million this year, the amount to be raised by local taxation remained steady at $17.4 million.

The town’s overall debt service remains relatively high, projected at a little more than $10 million for 2022, but has begun to drop off and that trend figures to continue.

Harrison did, like most municipalities, take a hit from COVID-19, seeing a decline in revenues from municipal court fines, interest on investments, hotel tax, parking lot tax and parking garage fees during 2020 and 2021.

Due to declining revenues from permanent and transient customers, the Harrison Parking Utility operated in 2020 at 38% of pre-COVID-19 levels and operated in 2021 at 24% of pre-pandemic levels, creating a $2.1 million deficit in the current budget which must be raised to offset lost revenues.

Nonetheless, the town’s overall fiscal performance was such that it merited a February upgrade in credit rating by Moody’s, from A1 in 2021 to Aa3 stable in 2022. According to the investment service’s analysis, Harrison “will continue to experience overall growth due to its easy access to New York City. The town has ongoing new developments coming on line, despite COVID-19, which are attracting young professionals to the area.

“The town’s financial position has materially improved over the past several years, despite pressure from an underperforming parking fund, to very strong levels and is expected to remain stable going forward. Its debt burden is elevated but should continue to decline as the town has no future debt plans.”

Learn more about the writer ...

Ron Leir | For The Observer

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.

He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.

He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York