In spite of facing very challenging fiscal circumstances, municipal staff and elected officials put together a 2016 municipal budget with only a 1.25 percent increase. Highland Park Borough Council members on March 15, 2016 introduced and passed on first reading the budget with the modest 1.25 percent budget increase that amounts to a 2.48 percent (per $100 of assessed property valuation) tax increase in the municipal portion of the tax bill. The tax increase translates to a $37.20 increase annually on a property assessed for $150,000 – which is the average residential property assessment in Highland Park. A property owner with an assessment of $250,000 would pay an additional $62 per year on the municipal portion of the property taxes.
The 2.48 percent tax levy increase is above the state mandated two percent CAP on tax increases. Exceeding the CAP, however, is allowed on those expenses over which the municipality has no control – such as increases in health benefit expenses.
“Everyone involved in putting together this budget was very conscientious and worked extremely hard to be as frugal – and smart – as possible in coming up with ways to keep tax increases at a minimum,” said Highland Park Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler.
As stated in the Highland Park Planet’s recent budget story about state funding for municipalities, Highland Park has sustained a 40.6 percent cut in state aid over the past decade (accounting for inflation). NJ Spotlight www.njspotlight.com reported that only major cities would see significant boost in funding under Gov. Christie’s proposed budget. Most municipalities – including Highland Park – received no aid increase over last year. This flat funding continues the aid strategy of the Christie administration that has been implemented for the past six years. See: Most Towns Receive Less State Aid Than They Received in 2006
Municipal officials have been complaining for years that the state is keeping some of the energy tax revenue it receives to help balance its budget, rather than returning it all to towns. That diversion would continue under Gov. Christie’s budget proposal. Highland Park Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler has been a municipal leader is this battle to force the state to turn over the energy tax revenue. Local officials are pushing legislation, approved last month by the NJ Assembly State and Local Government Committee, that would return, beginning July 1, $331 million of the energy tax money kept by the state in 2009-2011.
“The dwindling state support reinforces why it is so important for Highland Park to pursue downtown development in order to produce the much-needed revenue from sources other than the individual residential homeowner….The commercial development is the most cost effective way to keep tax increases to a minimum,” said the mayor.