Tabernacle budget proposal comes with tax increase to fund projects

A 2-cent hike was offered to cover past bond ordinances.

The new municipal budget proposed for Tabernacle Township comes with an increase in taxes to help pay for approved projects in 2019.

Rodney Haines, chief financial officer for the township, introduced the budget at the township’s April 27 committee meeting. He later announced what would be a 2 cent tax rate increase.

Property owners with a home at the average assessed value of $265,357 can expect an annual increase of $53.07 to their municipal taxes.

The tax hike was attributed to bonds the 2019 township committee approved but had not budgeted for until this fiscal year.

“The only real increase is because of debt services, and I told the 2019 committee that the money needed to be raised then,” Haines explained. “It’s just to cover the debt services, which is related to road projects and buildings. Pay for things that have been previously approved.”

The capital improvement plan has a $243,000 appropriation for the 2020 road project, funded by the state Transportation Trust Fund Authority Act, and $65,000 for down payments. It has additional appropriations for a new $135,000 backhoe, complete with a front-loader. The current machine is 25 years old and its repairs are costly.

A bond ordinance was adopted as of Sept. 24 for the projects in the capital budget. Haines had advised the committee to be cautious when adopting that bond ordinance.

Aside from the capital improvement plan, the township’s capital budget (a general budget amendment municipalities submit, if necessary) has $1.32 million for additional public works equipment and the aforementioned backhoe. Included in the capital budget is a $1 million road improvement plan for 2020.

The $5,194,792.91 budget retains legal fees to afford payments of settlements or other associated court costs from Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuits.

“In 2019, we budgeted for an additional attorney for OPRA proceedings — which we continually do — and it’s not an increase, but more of a new normal,” Haines noted. “We’re keeping that money within the budget.”

Township revenues, as of deadline, had not been greatly affected by the pandemic and Haines mentioned creating the budget with conservative numbers. Other revenues like construction and court fees are anticipated to decline. Employees continue to receive compensation and cleaning costs are the only expenditure that increased.

“We’re hoping for additional expenditures to be submitted to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency),” Haines said.

Some interest rates had dipped as the pandemic continued to drive stocks down and lenders have placed many loans in forbearance or have frozen  interest rates. Despite it all, Haines cautioned against refinancing the township’s bonds, citing the unstable market.

“There aren’t any really commercial markets to keep the rates down,” he shared. “Most of our debts are at a reasonable rate, and we right now don’t have the savings to warrant that. Hopefully in the next few months, the markets will stabilize more and get stable rates.”

A public hearing is scheduled for the next township virtual session, tentatively set for May 26 at 7:30 p.m. Details on the budget and accessibility for the meeting are available on TownshipOfTabernacle-NJ.gov.