From the Brigantine Taxpayers Association:
When elected officials oppose a proposed increase in the municipal purpose tax rate and put forth their suggested reduction in such an increase, taxpayers might at first find such a position to be persuasive and be tempted to jump aboard in support of it.
Regarding Brigantine’s budget, the Brigantine Taxpayers Association believes such support would be a mistake.
Such a position and numbers as now advocated, recklessly we believe, by Mayor Guenther and Councilman Simpson do not hold up to scrutiny. Proposing the use and manipulation of money borrowed for emergencies, tax appeals and Sandy, to help taxpayers pay property taxes instead of paying down our public debt as soon as possible does not fit within sound financial management of public revenue.
We appreciate the financial difficulties facing many people in Brigantine, but, these ill-advised recommendations don’t really help anyone.
Certainly, the position of the BTA over the years has been one of fighting for reforms to reduce the cost of our local government and to stop the upward trend in our property taxes.
This trend, from 2006 the first effective tax year after the last revaluation to 2012, a period during which Mayor Guenther continued to be in office as mayor, has brought us an average annual increase of over 8 percent in our municipal purpose tax rate. Last year’s increase was almost 10 percent. Initially, this budget had a tax rate increase of 6.2 cents. We opposed such an increase which was subsequently reduced to 3.4 cents, a 7 percent increase over 2012.
The auditor has done an excellent and thorough job of presenting the numbers to Council and the public.
We’ve listened and learned about the city’s finances and the budget process which is more complex and uncertain this year because of the severe consequences to our city’s financial status from both Sandy and the thousands of continuing tax appeals which number 1,335 this year.
These appeals have sharply reduced our ratable base and the revenue from it.
It’s crucial to know and understand the true numbers which we believe are honestly reflected in the 3.4 cent increase, an increase necessary even with $355,000 from the water and sewer utility surplus fund placed in the municipal budget, not a usual procedure. These numbers must not be ignored and muddled as we believe the mayor and Councilman Simpson have done with their three proposals which we don’t believe are credible.
For instance, when recommending an increase in the 2013 projected revenue from beach fees and permits in Brigantine’s budget, they ignore the criteria for approval to participate in the federal government’s Community Disaster Loan Program.
The State’s Division of Local Government Services encourages local governments experiencing Sandy-related revenue losses to apply for this loan. We have done so.
Mayor Guenther and Councilman Simpson also mislead Brigantine taxpayers by stating incorrect and exaggerated numbers when telling them how much they will save in their property taxes with their proposals. With a 3.4 cent increase in the municipal-purpose tax rate, the property tax increase will be the assessment divided by 100 and then multiplied by .034.
The city has millions of dollars of new, extra debt in a weak economy.
Some important items that must get our attention as we get control of our financial future are: a loan for tax appeals which can only be done once and whose proceeds are inflating Brigantine’s fund balance, a fact which the mayor and the councilman are reluctant to acknowledge, a loan for storm recovery expenditures, uncertain reimbursement amounts from FEMA, possible lower revenues from summer activities, liabilities regarding employees and their union contracts which have been excessively generous in comparison with the private sector, and a golf course which taxpayers might have to subsidize if it isn’t self-sustaining.
All of these are realities which must be addressed with foresight and sound judgment. Kicking the debt can down the road isn’t the answer.
We support the five-day voluntary furlough program recently proposed by the city manager whose purpose is to reduce staffing costs and help to avert layoffs. This plan deserves the employees’ participation as they help the city, the taxpayers and each other.
A new trend we want to start includes paying down our debt as soon as possible, reducing the cost of our municipal government, stabilizing our municipal purpose tax rate, and eliminating or reducing annual increases in it.