The Brick T0wnship Board of Education failed to introduce its tentative 2015-16 budget Thursday night as scheduled after board members decided to vote against the proposal once new information was revealed about a potential tax increase.
At the meeting, it was determined that the tax levy, as proposed, increased by 1.8 percent – an amount more than board members were comfortable with. While just a tentative budget would have been introduced, board members felt they needed more time to hammer out a better plan.
“I don’t know that we can get it down to zero, but we want to get it as low as we can get it,” Board President Sharon Cantillo said of any potential rise in the tax levy. “I don’t feel, at this point, with the information I’ve been privy to, that we’ve exhausted every efficiency.”
At one point in the meeting, Finance Committee chair Karyn Cusanelli expressed frustration with Business Administrator James Edwards over the clarity of documents provided to board members and the speed at which they were turned over. Board President Sharon Cantillo, likewise, expressed frustration, but an argument was ultimately avoided as board members and Edwards, who appeared perturbed by the criticism, delved into a deeper discussion into the district’s finances.
A miscommunication was at the heart of the decision to delay the budget’s introduction, as a committee of board members had been working under the premise that the tax levy was going to rise 0.9 percent this year, while the documents presented at Thursday night’s meeting indicated a 1.8 percent increase. The discrepancy had to do with the difference between the district’s regular operating budget and debt service payments coming due this year. Combined, the budget and debt service obligations equaled a 1.8 percent total hike in the tax levy, leading board members to pull back on the budget introduction.
Edwards said the debt service payments alone will force a 0.9 percent tax levy increase. The debt, which has been raised over the course of many years, totals approximately $16 million, according to Edwards.
The now-failed $147,703,870 budget proposal included debt service payments of $2,688,428. The proposed tax levy – the portion paid by local residents through property taxes – was to be $98,501,193 to support the operating budget and $2,378,131 to fund the debt service, for a total of $100,879,324. In comparison, the 2014-15 school budget was $146,520,788, supported by a total tax levy of $99,113,095.
Edwards estimated that, as proposed, the budget would have raised taxes by about $50 for the average Brick homeowner.
Cantillo said the committee and district officials, as well as former board member Larry Reid, who is volunteering his time to assist with financial issues, will continue to work on the budget and introduce a modified plan soon.
New Jersey requires school districts to introduce their budgets by March 20, a deadline Brick will now miss. Jack Sahradnik, the board attorney, advised Edwards to notify the Ocean County Executive Superintendent of Schools of the vote.
Sahradnik said the board will have to hold a special meeting “as soon as possible” to introduce a budget.
“In my mind, whether it’s tentative or it’s permanent, I just didn’t think this was a good idea tonight,” said Cantillo. “We have more work to do.”