A message from Brigantine City Manager; Jennifer Blumenthal. The city is currently working on the budget for the 2014 fiscal year, and plans to introduce the budget at the Wed., April 2 council meeting.
Negotiations are in process with the police, teamsters, lifeguards and dispatchers; contracts that expired in 2012 and more recently the fire department, whose contract expired in 2013.
The city is negotiating various reductions in compensation, including reducing salary ranges, contributions to health benefits, zero percent wage increases, removal of longevity, and scheduling changes to reduce overtime costs and other contractual changes to reduce overall costs of wages. I am hoping to come to resolution soon with a few of the unions and secure agreements and bargaining unit contracts.
The city recently published its draft budget on the city’s website. This is the first time that the city has introduced the public to the budget process at such an early stage of its progress towards an adopted budget.
The draft budget includes a 42 percent increase in the local tax rate (from .522 to .742). Technically this is correct. However, it does not represent a 42 percent dollar increase for the average assessed homeowner. The percentage increase must be looked at in relation to the change in assessed valuation – a drop of over a billion dollars – due to the city revaluation.
The draft budget calls for an increase of more than $1.7 million to maintain operations. The $1.7 million increase is allocated by assessed valuation. For example, if your home was at the 2013 average assessed value of $475,000, your local taxes would have been $2479.50 for 2013.
After revaluation the average assessed home dropped to $366,000 for 2013. If you were the average assessed value in 2013 ($475,000,) and remained the averaged assessed home after revaluation in 2014 ($360,000), then your local taxes would have risen from $2,479.50 (2013) to $2,715.72 (2014) a $236.22 increase for the year, which represents a 9.5 percent increase in dollars paid for taxes.
The revaluation will be different for all homeowners. To see a decrease in taxes for 2014 what must occur is for the revaluation on your property to be at least 20 percent lower than its assessed value prior to revaluation.
If it’s approximately 20 percent lower, and the tax levy remains the same (no increase in the budget), then you will see the same or a decrease in taxes. From there it will all depend on the decrease in your home’s assessed value over 20 percent compared to the any increase in the budget to determine if you will see an increase or decrease in your taxes.
The majority of the city should have experienced a decrease in assessed valuation. Any homeowner who experienced an increase in assessed valuation will see a tax increase for 2014.
The draft budget is also experiencing a new appropriation line that needs to be funded by taxpayer dollars. This is a deficit that occurred in the city’s golf utility fund of $765,000. This amount makes up part of the $1.7 increase in the budget.
The rest of the increase is from various increases in expenses, including employee expenses, contractual expenses (such as solid waste removal), utility expenses (such as street lights, electric and fuel), reductions in revenue for permit fees waived for construction, and other less significant increases.
The city created the Golf Course Steering Committee to analyze the golf course operational and physical needs with consideration of council’s objective to make the golf course self-funding, eliminating the cost to the taxpayers in future years. The increase in capital needs coupled with the steady reduction in revenue over the last seven years makes council’s objective challenging.
A consultant was hired who created an analysis of the capital needs of the golf course. This includes various hole improvements and replacement of the golf course’s irrigation system. The steering committee is considering a longer term management lease than we currently have entered into. Currently, the city leases out the golf course for five years. Now it is considering a 20- to 24-year lease with the management company being responsible for the capital improvements, thereby reducing the liability to the taxpayers.
The biggest budget challenge for the city remains with the operational budget. Over 60 percent of the budget is allocated to employee expenses, including salaries, pension, health benefits, and other compensation, such as, uniforms, holiday pay, overtime, etc. Over the last two years the city has reduced salary and wages through attrition, replacing full time with part time employees, and merging operation to maintain operations with less staff.
Over the last two years, staff was reduced by 16 positions, with an annual savings of over $600,000. In addition, the city changed its health care provider saving the taxpayers $150,000 annually. It pursued additional revenue sources, such as, ice cream sales on the beach, advertising on trash cans (which had a secondary benefit of cleaner beaches, due to the new trash cans with lids), and managing the mini-golf privately.
We continue to negotiate with the respective unions to reduce costs through various reductions in compensation, including reducing salary ranges, contributions to health benefits, zero percent wage increases, removal of longevity, and scheduling changes to reduce overtime costs and other contractual changes to reduce overall costs of wages.
I am also working with management staff to find other efficiencies in operations. John Doring, interim Public Works superintendent and I have met with ACUA representatives to increase services at less cost to the taxpayers and analyzed recycling yard needs for increases in service and revenue. I have also been working closely with Dan Howard, interim Public Safety director to hire part-time firefighters and EMTs to replace full time staff that have retired, change policy to reduce high overtime expenses, and streamline operations to “do more with less.”
The draft budget should be significantly changed before introduction. We are working hard to reduce the $1.7 increase in the budget from 2013.
The budget is always an ongoing process. What we did in past years is what we pay for today. Our present will dictate our future.