West Deptford’s tax increase under this year’s budget is down to almost half of what it was introduced at last month, and could shrink to a third or less by the time final adoption comes around, township officials said in a budget presentation and public hearing Thursday night.
, the budget has already been cut back to an 8.5¢ per $100 of assessed value tax increase, township administrator Eric Campo explained during his presentation, with the potential to get even lower.
“We believe we have a significant chance of getting below 8.5¢,” Campo said.
How much lower?
Possibly down to a 5¢ per $100 value increase or less, according to Mayor Ray Chintall.
But the township still has to battle a steep hike in debt service payments, among others, to get down to that point.
“That’s a huge mountain to climb,” Chintall said.
Four major factors left a mark on the budget this year, Campo said.
On the expense side of the ledger, the jump in debt service payments of $3.4 million, an increase of $406,000 in health insurance premiums and $750,000 for tax appeal costs added a significant load to the budget.
And the loss of about $200 million in ratables created a shortfall of about $640,000.
“That’s without any other increases,” Campo said. “That creates a revenue problem for the town.”
The debt service and health insurance increases were out of the township’s hands, Campo said, and the tax appeals budget is necessary, even with potential settlements in place for the Sunoco and Coastal/El Paso challenges to Eagle Point’s assessment, because of appeals elsewhere, Campo said.
“It’s a big year for tax appeals all across the board,” he said.
To help balance things out, Campo said, the township is moving $2.1 million in surplus from 2011, and payments coming in from the Rivercove apartment complex, which was taken over by GE Capital, help in both a one-time, $1.28 million payment, as well as regular tax payments through the rest of this year will help blunt the hits to the budget.
The township’s also started to receive Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) money from West Deptford Energy’s power plant, as the project moves into its initial construction phase, which will total $1 million per year over the next several years, Campo said.
As far as expenses beyond the big three he outlined, Campo said the good news is the township has been able to hold the line on salaries, essentially keeping them flat since 2007.
And another round of budget cuts—all departments have already seen 3- to 10-percent cuts—could chop another $500,000, which would knock another 2¢ off the tax rate increase, Campo said.
“We have a way to get there,” he said.
Still, the township is keeping an eye to preserving core services and maintaining the quality of life, Campo said.
“You have to do responsible cuts,” he said.
While Thursday was the official public budget hearing, Chintall said more public input, including a possible weekend budget workshop meeting, is in the offing.