Teaneck residents could see a municipal tax hike to support the town’s 2016 budget.
Township Manager William Broughton presented the town council with a $69.1 million proposed budget in early February that would raise the tax levy by 2.26 percent from last year’s budget.
The budget, which is smaller than last year’s, did raise some concerns for several town council members who would like to see the levy at zero again.
“Every time we do it, it’s being called a trick, a rabbit out of a hat, but I believe that our residents are really in need of tax relief,” said Deputy Mayor Elie Katz.
Councilman Mark Schwartz, who is also JLNJ’s co-publisher, said his goal is to keep a flat budget while avoiding any service cuts. “Does it sound impossible? We did it last year and I hope we can do it again this year. So far it looks good,” he said.
Katz said he doesn’t care how the town council does it, but he wants to make sure municipal taxes don’t go up at all. However, not all of the council members are convinced that winnowing down the budget to prevent a tax bump is a good idea.
“For us to dream that we can go to a zero budget for 2016 is irresponsible,” Councilman Dr. Henry Pruitt said.
Schwartz said he thought that Pruitt and other council members who said a zero budget increase is irresponsible might not have been factoring in the delay in the Glenpointe tax appeal decision, which now looks like it not will be in 2017, but it might have nill effect as well. “Frankly, if the courts ever ruled that complex is assessed at $100 million, I say we bond for it and buy it,” said Schwartz.
At least some savings could be made by smaller line item savings. “I am trying to move the town away from an every year police car purchase. So far we have done that the last three years and I hope my fellow council members will agree this year should be an off year. That’s a $200,000 savings,” said Schwartz.
Teaneck resident Stephen Gruber urged the council members not to decide on a tax rate in a vacuum, but to consider the town’s debt too.
“We’re just pushing it down the line and paying for it later, and that affects the value of our homes, the value of the property, who’s moving in, who can afford to live here,” Gruber said.
There isn’t much the town can afford to cut from the budget though, Councilman Mohammed Hameeduddin said. The town already operates without a deputy finance manager and without a deputy finance director. The town also cut down the police and fire forces from their authorized sizes, Hameeduddin said.
“We are operating more with less right now,” Hameeduddin said. “We’ve done a lot to go down to bare-bones minimum. It’s very difficult. We’ve spent the last six years getting down to this point. It’s very difficult to get down even further without having direct impact to the services we provide.”
Last year’s budget used $6 million of surplus money, which Hameeduddin cautioned against at the time because he felt the town shouldn’t burn through its surplus. This year’s budget will be using only about $4 million in surplus.
Broughton originally estimated a 5 percent increase in the 2016 levy based on the surplus usage last year, so the current levy is better than expected.
The township has some extra money on hand from its new tax sale date. The date used to be in November, which allowed taxpayers to be up to seven quarters late on taxes, but since the township moved the collection data to January, the tax collection rate has risen and Teaneck has needed to budget less for dealing with uncollected taxes.
There is some concern among council members that this year’s budget doesn’t account for possible town payouts in the Glenpointe tax appeal. Property revaluations done during 2007 at the peak of the market meant that owners paid taxes at high rates for years before the next revaluation. No money has been set aside for the tax appeal, and the township will need to make an emergency appropriation or borrow money to pay out if the case doesn’t fall in its favor.
But the case still requires 45 more days of testimony and there probably won’t even be a written decision by the judge until 2017, according to Teaneck’s tax assessor James Tighe.
“We probably won’t have to deal with the Glenpointe issue until next year. I think that’s very good news for the township,” Broughton said.
Teaneck needs to do a better job assessing homes and buildings correctly so the town doesn’t need to refund money it worked hard to bring in, Hameeduddin said.
The town also has to budget a large amount of money for resurfacing the roads, said Fran Wilson, director of the department of public works.
“You can’t skip a year of paving roads,” Wilson said. “We pay the price later.”
Resurfaced roads should cut down on money toward filling potholes, Wilson added.
The town will also have to pay for new equipment for the DPW soon.
“A lot of the equipment seems to be rusting and rotting in place,” Councilman Alan Sohn said about the town’s recycling center.
The equipment, much of which is already 20-years-old, is well overdue to be replaced, Wilson said.
The town council will spend the next several weeks discussing and revising the 2016 budget. The next budget meeting is on Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. in the municipal building at 818 Teaneck Road.
By Aliza Chasan