Shamong Township Committee voices budget concerns

Shamong Township

As budget time grows closer, the Shamong Township Committee voiced its financial concerns for 2016 during last week’s meeting.

“One of the things we continue to fight as a municipality is loss in revenue,” Township Administrator Sue Onorato said.

Over the past decade, state and county funding have decreased by $1.7 million. This has had a lasting impact on the township’s surplus.

“Our problem is the state aid we get is close to nothing,” Mayor Tim Gimbel said. “We’ve got a problem coming and it’s not going to get better for us. We’re at a point now where we don’t know where we can get the rest of this money.”

The cash surplus has dropped from $1.4 million to $1.15 million this year.

“So we’re looking at ways to put money into our surplus any way we can,” Onorato said.

The township is looking to bring in revenue to get a hold on the tax increase, whether it is through building a cemetery or a cell tower it has looked into.

Onorato suggested borrowing from the school tax to add money to the surplus as a last resort, something Shamong has done to help in years past.

Last year, the town saw a significant increase in its taxes, a large majority of this money going to the local school districts.

“Ninety-three percent of what we pay out goes to the schools, and it’s great for the kids’ education, but at the end of the day, we’re at their mercy, we can’t control anything they do,” Gimbel said.

The major swing in the Lenape Regional High School District tax increase was due to a re-evaluation in Mt. Laurel, the largest town in the district. The Shamong School District also had a sizeable increase last year, and it is expecting to do so again this year.

The current total assessed value of the town is $662 million. The average assessed home is just less than $308,000, so an increase of one penny in the tax rate is going to cost the average homeowner $31 a year. In turn, a one-penny increase would add $66,000 to the town’s total revenue.

“So looking on a percentage basis only, I’ve added about 3.5 cents, which is almost $108 a year on the averaged assessed value home in our town,” Onorato said.

Onorato also estimated a 2 percent increase from the county, though she noted they wouldn’t have those final numbers for a while.

“Just trying to get us somewhere in the ballpark,” she said.

Last year, Shamong saw about a $510 increase on the average house, and right now, based on the early assumptions made by Onorato, it will likely be about a $256 increase this year.

Onorato emphasized that in 2015, $197 of this $510 went to local purpose tax. This includes expenses necessary to running the township on a yearly basis, such as the upkeep and standard maintenance of roads, athletic fields and public works equipment.

“It’s a lot of expenses that nobody thinks about,” Onorato said.

Fortunately, last year’s budget was underspent by about $700,000; this money will be added down the road to the township’s surplus account.

The committee will continue to crunch numbers and try to increase the surplus for this year’s budget that will be finalized and prepared for it’s initial hearing in March.

Committee is open to hearing any ideas citizens might have to create revenue.