One of the most contentious talking points of the 2013 West Deptford budgeting process was the strategy of surplus spending and funding cuts to achieve a flat tax increase for township residents on their 2013 tax bills.
At Tuesday's candidate forum, Republicans urged residents to go home and look at their tax bills and claimed they would find a county tax increase. Democrats claimed instead that they would see a six-cent municipal tax increase.
Patch spoke with officials from the Gloucester County and West Deptford local governments to get a closer look at the numbers.
1. Gloucester County taxes decreased from 2012 to 2013.
“The County rate dropped from 51¢ [per $100 of assessed value] in 2012 to 30.8¢ in 2013,” said Gloucester County spokesperson Debra Sellitto in an e-mail to Patch.
The average assessed home is valued at $203,895 in Gloucester County.
“If you round the decrease in county taxes to 20¢, the
average home is paying $407.79 less in county taxes in 2013,” Sellitto said.
2. The Gloucester County tax credit did not fully offset the Sunoco tax settlement payment.
In 2013, West Deptford was credited $5,922,794 in the county tax levy, approximately $4.8 million of which was due to the Sunoco appeal, Sellitto said. The remainder of that $1.1 million-plus reflects credits for other appeals and other adjustments, she said.
(On the attached document, these figures are shown under the heading “Adjusts to Total Taxes” on the “County Tax” line.)
“The credit is $5.9 million but the total payment on the tax appeal bond is $6.7 million,” said West Deptford Township Administrator Eric Campo.
“The county credit does somewhat mitigate it but it doesn’t fully offset it,” he said.
3. Commercial tax appeals throughout the county, including in West Deptford, have affected the ratable tax base.
There were no tax reassessments at the county level, Sellitto said, but there were a number of tax appeals received.
At the municipal level, West Deptford received a several commercial tax appeals, some of which Campo said are being handled by Beckman Roth Ogozalek and Perez, the law firm of West Deptford Solicitor Anthony Ogozalek.
But resolving those issues has not required the township taking on any bonding to pay out tax refunds, Campo said.
“In many of them it involves credits applied to their tax bills going forward,” he said. “We don’t have a final number of what it is for ’13.”
4. The West Deptford tax base has shifted, but property values have not fallen.
The township municipal tax base is down on the whole, Campo said, largely related to the Sunoco lawsuit.
In 2012, West Deptford ratables fell to $2.541 billion, and then again, to $2.358 in 2013, Campo said, but “there might be some movement in that $2.358 billion figure.
“The hope is that there’s not going to be a significant reduction to the tax base next year,” Campo said. “The major tax appeals that have potentially large refunds, we have resolved them.”
Campo does believe that the rate base is headed toward stability overall.
“What I think you’re seeing happening is that the percentage of commercial that makes up the rate base has declined,” he said.
In 2012, Campo said, the commercial sector accounted for almost 22 percent of the West Deptford rate base; industrial made up 17 percent.
But in 2013, the percentage of commercial taxes fell to 20 percent, and industrial fell to 14 percent, Campo said, which “drove residential from 54 percent of the rate base up to 58 percent of the rate base almost in one year.”
That shift places a higher burden on West Deptford residents to pick up the financial slack, but it doesn’t mean that property values have fallen in the township, Campo said.
“If that were the case, and their assessments were declining,
they’d be paying less taxes,” he said.
5. There was no delay in providing county tax information to West Deptford for the purposes of municipal budgeting.
West Deptford Committeeman Sam Cianfarini has long said publicly that there was some delay in providing tax valuation figures to the township (and further postulated that it was motivated by political wrangling).
Both Sellitto and Campo confirmed that not only was that preliminary budget information available to the township at the same time it is delivered every year, but that the preliminary assessments from which Campo advised the committee to work were right on the nose.
“The County Assessor sent timely information to West Deptford,” Sellitto said. “The Administrator received very accurate preliminary assessment figures, and confirmed the same to the County Assessor. These figures were sufficient to proceed with development and introduction of the municipal budget.”
“There was no delay,” Campo concurred. “I had that information early in the year. I had working numbers on the assessments and I had advised the committee to use an estimated value of $2.35 billion [for the township tax base]
“Sure enough, the final rates came in at exactly that,”
6. West Deptford municipal taxes were not flat in 2013.
West Deptford school taxes increased 6.01¢ per $100 of assessed property valuation from 2012 to 2013. Based on the value of an average assessed home in the township $207,966, that’s an average annual increase in costs of $123.03.
But separate from that metric, municipal taxes—those levied by the township government, not its school system—also climbed about 7¢, even after the tax credit related to the Sunoco appeal.
In 2012, the West Deptford municipal purpose tax levy was $20,020,086, according to county documents. In 2013, that figure climbed to $24,821,268, a difference of $4,801,182.
The municipal purpose tax rate increased from 78.6¢ in 2012 to $1.052, up 27¢ when rounded, which translates into an increase of $550.52 for the average assessed home in the township.
(See the attachment, under the heading “Net Taxes to Be Raised,” the line captioned “Municipal Purpose Tax”.)
Campo said that the increase was partially offset by West Deptford using $1.1 million of debt reserve and $3.6 million of its financial surplus.
“The 27¢ increase is simply a comparison of this year’s rate versus last year’s rate,” Campo said. “There’s no question that the Sunoco payment this year is mostly responsible for that increase.”
However, even “after you apply any of the use, the final budgeting numbers, surplus, or the amendments that were made to the 2013 budget,” the municipal tax rate increased at least 7¢ per $100 of assessed value, Campo said.