SO budget to up taxes by 1.9 percent

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange Board of Trustees introduced the preliminary 2016 budget at its June 27 meeting. This budget will raise property taxes for the municipality by 1.9 percent.

Municipal taxes are only part of South Orange’s property taxes, with Essex County and the South Orange-Maplewood School District taking the lion’s share.

Resolution No. 2016-148, allowing the village to introduce the 2016 municipal budget, was passed 5-0, with Trustee Howard Levison absent. The 2016 municipal budget comes in at $34,639,072.84, an increase of $1,096,227.25 from the 2015 budget.

Of the more than $34 million budget, $22,740,971.84 is to be raised by taxes. With the average assessed home value at $459,258.07, the average homeowner will see a tax increase of $93.33.

According to village Administrator Barry Lewis Jr. in a presentation he gave at the meeting, the preliminary budget maintains current levels of service, budgets for agreed union contracts, implements a 12-hour police-patrol schedule, accommodates the delay in the Third and Valley redevelopment opening that is accompanied with delayed Payment In Lieu Of Taxes payments and reduces the village’s dependency on surplus balance as revenue.

Village President Sheena Collum described this year as a “very challenging budget cycle.”

Trustee Mark Rosner pointed out that budgeting for the municipality will continue to be more difficult as items such as the state pension run rampant, saying change can only come once New Jersey has sworn in Gov. Chris Christie’s successor.

“We need Trenton to take action once Christie is out, because who knows what he does,” Rosner said.

The board also passed Ordinance No. 2016-19 on second reading with a vote of 4-1 — Rosner voted no — to allow the municipal budget to exceed to the cap, pushing the increase to 3.5 percent over the previous year’s final appropriations, if absolutely necessary.

Lewis said the village passes this ordinance every year to provide a cushion should an emergency arise. Though the ordinance passes each year, Lewis was quick to point out that the village had never used this “rainy day” money.

Rosner explained that a reason not to pass the ordinance would be that, if you don’t have the extra money, you can’t ever use it; therefore, the village would not exceed the municipal budget simply because they know they have a cushion.

But Collum pointed out that the village has had it in the past and not used it.

“The board has not used any nor do I think it’s our intention to use any in the future,” Collum said of the banked cap established in prior years.

There will be a public hearing July 22, to address the 2016 municipal budget.