The Lakewood, NJ, Township Committee last night introduced a $68.8 million budget for 2009 that calls for a 9.8 percent tax rate hike. It also voted to shave $787,793 from the school budget that failed two weeks ago. The township tax levy would increase almost $4 million from last year to $43.6 million, bringing the tax rate up about 5 cents. The proposed new tax rate means someone with an average home assessed at $300,000 would pay $148 more in municipal taxes.Township officials said the tax hike was unavoidable due largely to a low tax collection rate and high number of property tax appeals. For the 2009 budget, the required reserve for uncollected taxes went up $1.5 million to $6.8 million. These factors contributed to about 3 cents of the tax rate increase, Mayor Robert Singer said.
As a result of a hiring freeze, the proposed budget eliminated 13 full-time positions and one part-time position by not refilling them in the Township Clerk’s office, inspection and public works.
In response to the voters’ rejection of the school district’s $72.4 million tax levy, the committee Wednesday also decided to reduce the budget’s proposed $2.8 million increase by 28 percent.
Committeeman Steven Langert, who negotiated the cuts with the school board, said that a balance needed to be found that would relieve the voters of some of the tax burden but not cause the state to declare that not enough was left to run the schools.
“We can’t ignore the clear and direct message that the voters sent,” Langert said. “Their rejection was overwhelming.”
He added that only way the voters were going to see true relief was if the state recognized Lakewood as an urban, multidemographic town that required more funding.
“Our expenses are outweighing the people’s ability to pay. This is continuing year after year,” resident Bill Hobday said, referring to a school budget that hasn’t passed in four years. “It’s time we have to think about a new plan – on what we can’t afford, and that means very, very difficult decisions that nobody wants to make.”