In Harrison, spending rises while taxes remain stable — again

Overall spending is going up but taxes are going down.

That, in short, is the story behind the draft 2023 municipal budget introduced by the Harrison governing body April 4.

To help support the $55.2 million in total appropriations proposed to operate the town this year, local taxpayers will be asked to contribute $17.41 million, “which is the same levy we have raised to support municipal purposes since 2021,” said Gabriela Simoes, the town’s chief financial officer.

And, Simoes said, that will mean that “the (municipal) tax impact is a decrease on the average home assessed at $447,000 of $16.”

Further, the CFO noted, “the amount to be raised by taxes to support the municipal budget has been stable since 2016, fluctuating less than 2% over a 7-year span.”

Asked to assess the impact of local school spending and the town’s share of county expenditures on the overall 2023 tax rate, Simoes said county and school tax levies have yet to be certified.

Meanwhile, general municipal operating expenses are projected to rise over last year by about $1.87 million, which, according to Simoes,, is “driven primarily by police and fire contracts and increase in personnel, increases in group health insurance, pension and general liability insurance.”

At the same time, however, she said the town’s annual debt service “has decreased by approximately $500,000 from 2022 to 2023, which is all allocated to the capital improvement fund, resulting in a net zero budget impact.”

This strategy, she said, “is part of an ongoing initiative to fully fund capital projects with capital funds and the aid of grant monies only. This reduces the overall debt burden on the town and eliminates the cost of borrowing.”

Examples of projects the town has paid for — or will be funding shortly — without  going to the bond market over the past decade include: a new engine, pumper, ambulance and water rescue equipment for the Fire Department; a mobile command center, upgraded dispatch, improved CAD/RMS systems, tactical and special operating equipment and parking enforcement vehicles for the Police Department; Recreation Department additions such as the new Firefighters Playground, Library Park playground, Police Officers playground, multi-use turf field, upgraded basketball and soccer courts on Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard and pending acquisition and development of 5-acre Cape May Street Park; a new vac truck, sweeper, skid-steer loader and commercial grade trucks for Public Works; and pending Information Technology improvements in support of a new town-wide Public Safety Video Network system in tandem with upgrading of all emergency personnel communications equipment including portable radios.

On the plus side of the budget ledger, there are signs of the town’s continued growth, with revenues from new ratables climbing from 2022 to 2023 by more than $4.2 million, hotel tax rising from $185,000 last year to $300,000, energy tax receipts up from $11.15 million to $11.56 million and a bump in state aid, from $11.48 million to $12.16 million.

A public hearing on the municipal budget has been scheduled for May 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the upstairs council chambers at Town Hall, 318 Harrison Ave.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.