By Elaine Van Develde
It’s not yet set in borough books, or even officially been introduced; but, if there are no cuts from the draft, Fair Haven property owners could be facing an average hike of roughly $102 in municipal taxes in 2015.
Average means what quantifies as the current average assessed property value in the borough of $720,900, up from $688,540 last year, Borough Administrator Theresa Casagrande said at Monday night’s Borough Council meeting. It actually means a lower tax rate per $100 of assessed value, but the rise in average assessed value naturally raises the rate on the average home.
What it boils down to is that “the conceptual average home will pay 101.83 more than it did in 2015,” Casagrande said. “I want to make it clear that this is not 1-2-3 Main Street. I could sit here and tell you that our tax rate is going down, but (the reality is that) as your average assessed value increased what we did was we calculated what an average assessed home paid this year versus what the average assessed property paid in 2014.”
In the grander scheme of budget talk, it means that spending plan in the borough, with its budget rough draft, went from about $8.3 to $8.4 million, or roughly a 3 percent increase.
The amount to be raised by taxation, or “appropriations minus revenue,” has been drafted at $6.1 million for 2015, calculating an increase of $231,591.
The number is arrived at from figuring the “combination of a slight increase in appropriations with a reduction in anticipated revenue,” which Casagrande said is down this year by about $148,000. That loss is largely due to the borough not being able to calculate in the $117,000 it got from FEMA last year for Hurricane Sandy damage.
A portion of the tax hike blame rests with unavoidable standard raises in employee health care costs and pensions, which, this year, will cost the borough $437,696.
“It’s a good budget. We have to maintain a level of affordability with quality municipal services,” Council President Jonathan Peters, liaison to the borough Finance Committee, said. “We don’t want to be a high cost, low service town.”
And while most council members at Monday night’s council meeting called the spending plan, in the works since January, a “good budget,” Councilman Robert Marchese said he “cannot stomach raising taxes. This gives me pause. Period. We need to care about seniors and those living on a fixed income. Taxes just can’t keep going up.”
And all that has been considered, Casagrande said, mentioning that there is a senior tax abatement program via the state dubbed Senior Freeze for which many have already applied. The income limit for the program is $85,553.
And, Mayor Ben Lucarelli said, when considering per capita expenses, or municipal services offered, Fair Haven is beyond the high end, comparatively, at about $1,397 on an average per capita spending of $1,295 to $1,350 in small versus large towns. But, he said, the services provided are much better than those in larger towns with lower taxes.
When that per capita number is lowered, “the level of services drops dramatically,” he said. And, he added, Fair Haven is known for providing a premium of municipal services that most people, in his experience, do not want to do without.
With this budget, officials said, a lot of the debt service in the borough, or $189,00, was wiped out, bringing the total debt down to $3 million.
“We’re now at the same level we were at in 2008,” Lucarelli said. “The budget has been chopped down and creeped up since then, but has never exceeded the 2008 number.”
For six years straight, from 2008 to 2013, Fair Haven boasted holding the line on municipal taxes, which comprises a little more than 20 percent of the tax bill, with no municipal tax hike (and one minuscule decrease) until last year.