According to township administrator Chris Pianese, overall spending is down from a year ago, from $63.8 million in 2003-04 to $62.3 in the coming year. But the total number to be paid for from residents' taxes went up, from $39.3 million to $40.2 million - a 2 percent increase.
The average homeowner with an average property value of $140,000 will see an increase of $40 annually in their property taxes.
Pianese said that there were several reasons why the tax bills had to be increased.
"For one, the insurance costs for health benefits and workman's compensation went up over $1 million," Pianese said. "Insurance rates are going up all over the place. It was a big hit."
Another costly problem was the garbage dumping fees incurred by the North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority, which went up $550,000 from a year ago.
"We've had no place to dump the garbage and the costs have gone up significantly," Pianese said. "It's become such a problem that we have a meeting next week with some Hudson County leaders to come up with a new strategy, because no one wants to take the garbage."
Pianese said that the key to keep a lean budget is to also try to reduce the township's debt services, which were sliced by $650,000.
"We're aggressively trying to pay down our debt," Pianese said. "It was as high as $60 million in the mid 1990s and it's down to $47.5 million now. It becomes less and less each year, and that's a good thing. We did some refunding to cut down the debt."
Pianese said that the township was not able to anticipate any of the expected windfall that will come with major developments slated to be built along the Hudson River waterfront in the future. Some day, those developments will contribute more to the tax levy.
More than four major residential housing developments with as many as 900 new housing units have been approved by the North Bergen Planning Board and are set to begin construction at any point in the future.
"They may go on and aggressively build, but none of those developments can be included as part of our tax ratable base," Pianese said. "It means that things are only going to get better down the road with the impact on taxes."
Included in the 2004-2005 budget are salaries of 10 to 15 new police officers set to be hired later this year. The township is awaiting results of the latest police Civil Service test before making the hiring of the new officers.
Also included in the capital budget are the improvements to Town Hall, making the 80-year-old building fully compliant, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The new Board of Commissioners' chambers will be located on the ground floor now, and these improvements are set to be completed within the next month.
Pianese said that he has also begun to set aside funding to build a new municipal pool complex. The former complex was closed three years ago due to chromium contamination, and the township has been looking for a suitable site to build a new facility.
"The acquisition cost for the land and the building of the pool is expected to be around $1.5 million," Pianese said. "So we've included some of that cost in this budget."
Also included in this budget were the $3 million repairs and improvements to 83rd Street through 91st Street to cut down on the flooding problems in that area. The improvements will include a pumping station that will take the standing waters and pump them into the Hackensack River nearby. The town also received some state and federal grants to aid in that project.
Pianese said that the current budget continues a trend that began with Mayor Nicholas Sacco's first administration in 1985.
"It's fixed with our policy to stabilize taxes below the rate of inflation," Pianese said. "It's not just this budget, but also in recent years."
Pianese said that over the last 10 years, the numbers speak for themselves. In 1994, the average homeowner paid $2,047 in property taxes. Today, the number stands at $2,340 per household, an increase of only 1.3 percent per year over that span.
"I don't know if you could find another municipality that can challenge that record," Pianese said. "And if anything, our services have gotten better over the years."
Pianese said that no township services will be compromised with the new budget, that everything offered by the township will remain the same.