The 2012 municipal budget was battered by several factors that led to an $864,000 increase last week, Township Administrator Frederick Ebenau said.
"This budget is not down to the bone, it's down to the marrow," Ebenau said at the Sept. 25 council meeting.
The Township Council in a split vote approved a budget amendment that calls for the amount to be raised by taxation to rise from $25,917,605 to $26,781,762, primarily because of circumstances beyond the administration's control, Ebenau said.
That includes a drop in the township's tax collection rate, deferred school taxes, hefty leftover snow removal charges from 2011, retirement payouts, a record number of tax appeals and loss of revenue in the construction department, he said.
The township's tax collection rate fell to 97 percent over the past year, Ebenau said.
"We have to budget for 103 percent, because we are not raising that three percent," Ebenau said.
Berkeley also had roughly 800 tax appeals over each of the last two years, largely due to the controversial revaluation, which went on the books in the fall of 2010, he said.
Ebenau and Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr. said in June they did not anticipate any tax increase in the 2012 budget. But that was before they knew the outcome of the large number of tax appeals.
Socked by snowstorms
The record number of heavy snowfalls in early 2011 also ate into the budget, with high overtime costs, Ebenau said.
The township racked up nearly $1 million in snow removal costs in 2011 - the last year of Mayor Jason J. Varano's administration - compared to roughly $35,000 in 2012. That meant $477,222 had to be taken care of in the 2012 budget, Ebenau has said.
"Emergency appropriations had to be done last year because of snow events," he said. "The deferred charges have to be raised in next year's budget. We found out we were short because of snow events."
"We are hoping and praying for no major snowstorms," he said.
The township also had a number of people retire after the budget was adopted, Ebenau said.
"We are allowed to spread that out over five years," he said.
Consolidation is key
South Seaside Park resident James Fulcomer said that Berkeley's unemployment rate is far higher than in other areas of the state and the country.
"Our township business administrator told me that Berkeley's rate is 14.9 percent," he said. "Fifteen percent is considered a depression, not a recession. Median income is down."
Fulcomer is Vice-President of the Berkeley Board of Education and a member of the township Planning Board.
"I urge you to remember your campaign promises, and to make sure you are doing your best," he told the council
Fulcomer has championed shared services between the Central Regional and the Berkeley school district. Although he never mentioned the Berkeley district by name, he told the council that hundreds of thousands of dollars could have been saved by the consolidation of central administration positions.
Fulcomer said Township Councilman Robert G. Ray had been a strong proponent of consolidation when he served on the Central Regional Board of Education.
The number of supervisors in both districts could have been reduced from eight to four.
"You are spending more than you need to," Fulcomer told the council. "We have two sets of central administrators where one of them would do just as well."
"You do know there are some roadblocks to consolidation," said Township Council President James J. Byrnes.
Byrnes was the longtime president of the Berkeley Board of Education before he was sworn into a council seat in January. He is running for one of the two seats up on the Township Council in November.
"There is no real roadblock that exists under the law," Fulcomer told Byrnes. "There are some people who would like to keep their patronage positions intact. Central Regional has consolidated administration with Seaside Heights, saving a considerable amount of money. There are no real impediments."
Berkeley's total tax rate - which includes school and county taxes - won't be available until it is certified by the Ocean County Board of Taxation, Ebenau said.