Township council passes budget with tax rate increase

Residents to see $137 average tax increase

Gloucester Township Council hosted a virtual public hearing June 8 regarding the 2020 budget, eventually passing a tax rate increase by a vote of 6 to 1.

Councilwoman Andrea Stubbs cast the lone vote against the budget.

At its May 11 session, council introduced a budget that called for a hike in the tax rate from 3.966 to 4.050. Residents with the average assessed property value of $188,000 would have seen an increase of approximately $156.

At its most recent meeting, however, council passed an amended budget that decreases the amount to be raised by taxation by approximately $452,000 from the original plan. With the amended budget’s passage, the amount to be raised by taxation increases from $47,829,279 in 2019 to $52,386,269.36 in the current year.

The budget now heads to the state for approval before going to Mayor David R. Mayer’s desk.

During the meeting, a number of residents addressed the council via phone and email to voice their concerns and frustration about a tax increase in the midst of the COVID-19   pandemic and a severe economic downturn.

Two residents, Sam Sweet and Peter Heinbaugh, had created and submitted to council what it called the 2020 GT Citizen’s Budget following the May 11 meeting, seeking ways to dramatically lessen the tax impact on residents.

The two accounting professionals requested and received various township records and came up with a plan that eventually decreased the proposed property tax levy to one-third of its original amount.

“We hammered out each and every line item … and went into it with the intention of doing a completely upfront and honest budget as if we were doing it for our own business,” said Heinbaugh.

The residents’ plan did not include changes to police personnel, equipment or supplies or the township’s debt service payments or increases to salaries and wages. In total, they identified nearly $1.5 million in additional revenue while decreasing the township’s expenditures by approximately $1.7 million.

While the budget was received and looked over by township officials, Business Administrator Tom Cardis said the two residents’ plan did not reflect reality.

“I thought it was an irresponsible way to approach the budget,” he noted. “They cut whatever they wanted to cut; they used what’s called a run rate. They looked at whatever was appropriated [in last year’s budget], and if that much wasn’t spent, they cut that item.

“What about the items that we budgeted for individually and [the township] exceeded?” Cardis asked. “They didn’t put that in there; it was biased in terms of how cuts were approached. Plus, they were maximizing every revenue, which is not prudent.”

Speaking with Mayer following passage of the budget, Cardis said the increase in taxes is in part due to the uncertainty regarding revenues and state aid this year.

“We are not sure what the revenues are going to look like this year and we are positioning the town the best that we can to be able to continue to provide the much-needed services that our residents deserve,” Mayer noted.

“Costs go up for everyone … They also go up for governments and we’re doing the best that we can to lessen that burden.”

Looking at the yearly tax increase in Gloucester Township since taking office, Mayer and Cardis indicated that the yearly increase in taxes has been approximately 2.85 cents.

“What we’ve done over the last 11 years, I believe, is control those increases in a variety of different ways,” Mayer explained. “The tax increases have been about 2.9 per year since I’ve been in office, but if you contrast that to 2002 to 2010, before I took office, it was over 9 cents on average per year.”

During the June 8 meeting, council also passed a resolution amending zoning restrictions that would allow for businesses and restaurants to open for outside dining starting June 15, per guidelines from Gov. Phil Murphy.