Faced with the task of juggling expenses in challenging economic times, North Bergen’s commissioners unanimously introduced their 2009-2010 budget at their Aug. 4 meeting. It will be up for a final vote and public hearing at the Aug. 26 meeting, and the commissioners can make amendments in the meantime.
The $76.4 million budget covers municipal spending from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010 and is up 3.6 percent from last year’s $75.2 million budget.
North Bergen taxpayers can expect to feel a 3.3 percent increase to their overall tax bills. Those bills include city taxes (which are affected by the aforementioned city budget), county taxes, and school taxes. The county and school amounts are usually decided by those bodies in the spring.
Town Administrator Christopher Pianese said that school taxes have remained stable, but North Bergen’s share of county taxes has increased 10 percent due to the township’s growth, requiring more county services.
Although the state of New Jersey mandates that no tax increase be more than 4 percent, Pianese said that the increase is allowed because of how fast North Bergen has grown in relation to surrounding communities. The township’s share of the reserve for uncollected county taxes rose $220,000 as part of the county tax increase.
Pianese said the township had prepared for this, and that it is likely that next year they will also face a hefty increase.
According to Pianese, a North Bergen taxpayer owning a home with an assessed value of $140,000 should feel an overall $207 increase over the next four quarters. Of that bill, $98 represents the municipal increase.
At the meeting, the due date for third quarter tax bills, which was Aug. 10, was reset to Oct. 1. While the budget is based on a fiscal year, going from July through the following June, taxes are billed every three months on a calendar year basis.
“There are no gimmicks to the budget,” said Mayor Nicholas Sacco at the commissioners meeting. “There is nothing that is going to come back to us later on. It’s a very honest accurate budget and I’m very happy with the budget right now, even though I’m not happy with any tax increase.”
A preliminary tax levy of $51 million represents a 1.24 percent increase over last year’s $49.8 million.
The budget must now be sent to the state Department of Community Affairs for approval, before a public hearing at the North Bergen commissioners meeting Aug. 26 at 1 p.m.
Dealing with increases
Pianese said that in addition to county taxes, pension and library increases had to be factored in.
“We had a significant uphill battle here, because certain costs are out of our control,” said Pianese.
He said that municipal contributions to pension systems, including the Public Employees’ Retirement System, Consolidated Police and Firemen’s Pension Fund and the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System of N.J., increased by $5 million.
North Bergen chose not to take a state-offered pension deferral for numerous reasons. The 8 percent interest rate that the township would be forced to pay over several years to make up the deferred payments was one of the deciding factors.
“In our eyes, it’s just not good government,” said Pianese.
Pianese said that salaries for union employees, including police and the department of public works, went up 3.5 percent and resulted in a $300,000 increase.
“There are no gimmicks to the budget.” – Mayor Nicholas Sacco
Health benefits flat
While there were numerous challenges in the budget, Pianese said they were successful in keeping numerous aspects stable.
Vornado Realty Trust’s mall development along Tonnelle Avenue was granted a tax abatement for the next five years and will contribute $725,000 from their revenues this year, and twice that amount next year.
North Bergen’s debt service dropped from $7.8 million to $7.7 million, which Pianese said was due to the township “aggressively paying down more debt” over the last 10 years.
Pianese said that they also changed their prescription drug carrier this year to Maxor National Pharmacy Services Corp., which kept the cost of health benefits stable.
“I can’t see you finding that in any other neighboring community,” said Pianese, who explained that most municipalities were experiencing a 15 percent increase in health benefits.
Pianese said while North Bergen never receives any state aid due to their fiscal stability, this year they are anticipating a $4.6 million surplus.
Also, homeowners in North Bergen may expect approximately the same credit as last year from the Regional Efficiency Aid Program (REAP), a tax rebate given by the state to homeowners in North Bergen after North Hudson communities regionalized their fire departments. Last year, homeowners received a $185 credit.
Pianese said he was still receiving paperwork on how many homeowners qualify for REAP. After knowing the total number of applicants, he will be able to say how much each household will receive.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.