Council discusses foregoing tax increase amid COVID-19

Members also consider using township surplus to offset costs

In early March, Moorestown’s proposed budget called for a tax increase.   But at its most recent meeting, council decided to revisit that decision and will now forego an increase this year. 

“I feel very strongly this is not the year to be giving residents a tax increase,” Mayor Nicole Gillespie said. 

At the July 27 meeting, Township Manager and Chief Financial Officer Thomas Merchel presented a revamped budget proposal that he altered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Merchel explained that as it stands, the township is at risk of losing around $248,000 in revenue. The township also faces a $160,000 increase in appropriations for its new sanitation contract. 

For those reasons, Merchel recommended council support a 1.1-cent local purpose tax increase over last year. That would mean the average assessed home valued at approximately $455,000 would see an approximately $50 tax increase. But council members asked Merchel to take another look at the budget and present one that utilizes the township’s surplus funds rather than increasing taxes.

“Raising taxes in a year when the economy looks pretty strong is a different thing than raising taxes when everything is a mess,” Gillespie said. “And we’re looking at historic unemployment and businesses are struggling in town.”

The mayor added that unless the township can find some places to trim, officials have arrived at a point where they have to “grit their teeth” and use surplus funds, with the understanding it is not sustainable to do so year over year. 

Councilwoman Lisa Petriello stressed a similar sentiment. She said while she doesn’t relish the idea of dipping into the township’s surplus funds, there could be opportunities in the future to replenish it. Petriello said her understanding is that the surplus funds are for “a rainy day.”

“It’s a pretty rainy day out there right now,” she noted.

Councilwoman Victoria Napolitano stressed that she supports utilizing reserve funds to offset a tax increase, and even suggested a tax cut. She said residents will most likely still face increases elsewhere in the year to come, and in her opinion, the Moorestown Board of Education and Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders won’t hesitate to raise taxes. 

“We should be talking about cutting back the taxes we raised last year,” Napolitano said.

Council adopted its 2020 temporary budget in January and amended it in March. Merchel said he’ll return to council at its next meeting on Aug. 10,  with a revised municipal budget that utilizes surplus funds. From there, the budget will be up for a public hearing and final adoption some time in September.