West Deptford taxpayers could seek a local tax hike of around $300 on average, after the approved a $34 million budget for 2012 by a 3-2 vote along party lines Thursday night.
Mayor Ray Chintall called it a “very preliminary” version of the budget, and said the tax increase—which would be an additional 15.3¢ per $100 of assessed value—is the worst-case scenario, and is likely to be lower when the budget is finalized later this year.
The $34 million figure is “by no means final,” Chintall said, and stressed that it would be revised, most likely before the May 10 public budget hearing.
Two of the biggest drivers of the increase were a $3.4 million increase in debt service payments this year, as well as $1.5 million for legal defense the township had to set aside in case the Sunoco and Coastal/El Paso tax appeals on ended up in court during the course of the year, Chintall said.
The township is also facing a similar situation as the school board, taking a major hit from Sunoco’s revaluation, which Chintall said represents a 6¢ per $100 of assessed value hole in the ratable base—or about a $1.5 million hit to this year’s budget via Eagle Point alone.
The budget does include $1 million in Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) funding from the West Deptford Energy Station’s construction phase, and committeeman Sam Cianfarini, the committee's finance chair, said there are a number of other initiatives underway to try to close the funding gap in this year’s budget.
Before the budget passed, Democratic committeewoman Denice DiCarlo raised a concern over fees to township professionals detailed in the budget, which she claimed came in $300,000 above what was budgeted for 2011, rather than the $150,000 reduction Cianfarini claimed at the reorganization meeting.
“I just think we would come in a lot lower,” DiCarlo said.
That touched off a lengthy back-and-forth between her and Cianfarini over those fees. Cianfarini questioned DiCarlo’s accounting, and added the actual spending on professionals may have come in higher in 2011, due to what he labeled questionable accounting and issues with the township’s ledgers.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m here,” he said.
But DiCarlo pressed on the professional’s pay, noting her analysis came straight out of the budget documents all committee members have had since the end of March.
“I thought we were really going to take a look at professional fees and decrease it,” she said.
Chintall said it would be something they could look at as the budget takes firmer shape.
“Does it need more revision? Absolutely,” he said. “We’ll have to review that.”
Committeewoman Donna Szymborski also expressed concerns about the budget's specifics before ultimately voting against it.
“We need to spend more time on the line-by-line,” she said.