NORTHFIELD — Residents face a 3.8-cent tax-rate increase should City Council’s budget, introduced Tuesday night, be approved following a public hearing next month.
Despite delivering a budget that cuts costs and comes in lower than last year’s final budget figure, missed revenue and a tax base that has continued to shrink over much of the past decade won’t spare local taxpayers from making up the difference.
The budget of $13.1 million — a more than 5 percent dip from last year’s $13.8 million budget — would raise $8.58 million through taxes, a year-over-year increase of more than 2 percent. Last year’s tax levy raised $8.39 million.
The proposed tax rate would rise to 96.3 cents per $100 of assessed property value from the 92.4 cents per $100 last year.
Councilman Frank Perri, a member of the finance committee, said Northfield has been frugal in its budget preparation but has struggled to overcome the economic realities facing not just the town but the entire county. A stagnant economy and Atlantic City’s still-not-yet-realized revitalization efforts have driven property values down, officials said. And with falling property values come tax appeals, something Northfield has contended with for years.
“We had 350 tax appeals (in 2017). Sixteen million dollar losses in net worth, which translated to about 2 cents on the tax rate right there,” Perri said. “Since 2010 we’ve gone down, I mean, 10-15 million a year in net worth on tax appeals.”
Officials cut public salaries and wages by more than 3 percent, but because of a falling tax collection rate, which Perri chalked up to residents struggling to pay their bills, reserves allocated for uncollected taxes have increased.
Councilwoman Susan Korngut voted against the new budget, along with Councilman Jim Travagline. Her objection to the budget came with a call for her fellow council members to be part of the solution. Korngut called for council members to forgo any public salary that comes with the position. Councilman Jim O’Neill said he and other council members have donated their salaries back to Northfield over the past few years.
Despite the persistent decline in Northfield’s valuation, Perri sees an end in sight. Projects are on their way, he said, including a 265-unit apartment complex that has already broken ground, which will help reverse the tide and raise revenue in Northfield in the next year or two.
“That all comes, when you build, that assessment on that property, and the taxes, the connection fees, sewage charges, that all counts,” he said. “But, the general economy has to turn around.”
The public hearing for Northfield’s 2018 budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 10 at City Hall.