Brick residents may face a school budget and tax levy that will rise by millions of dollars for the 2016-17 school year under a budget proposal set to be presented at a board meeting scheduled for Thursday night.
A tentative budget for next school year, which appears on an agenda for the meeting, includes an operating budget and debt service total of $154,065,709, which will be supported by a tax levy of $105,695,802. Compared with the budget adopted last year, the spending plan for the coming school year will rise by $7,135,442 with the tax levy – the amount residents must pay toward the budget – rising $5,695,081.
The tentative budget included in the agenda does not detail the reason for the increase. A new contract covering salaries and benefits for the district’s teachers – the largest budget items – was tax neutral, with pay increases offset by give-backs in the teachers’ health benefits plan, officials said at the time in July 2015. Debt service payments are forecast to decrease between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years.
Board President John Lamela did not return a call from Shorebeat seeking comment.
Though both the expenditure and tax levy increase would exceed the state’s 2 percent cap law, triggering a referendum vote, it is likely that the increases will be exempt from the cap due what is known as a cap bank. The practice, often cited as a loop hole in the cap law, allows a municipality or school district that has stayed under the cap in up to three previous years to “bank” the difference between the full 2 percent at the amount actually budgeted and raise taxes and spending based on that figure in subsequent years. Officials, in the past, have said the district, which has had either zero or minimal tax increases over the past several years, has about $7 million in its cap bank. Though known as “banked cap,” the money is not held in an account – it is simply money that was never raised in previous years and must be raised through taxation when finally used.
The tentative budget may be changed before it is adopted, meaning it could either increase or decrease as necessary. The board’s finance committee, responsible for recommending the budget to the full board, is made up of board members Stephanie Wohlrab and Victoria Pakala.
The meeting where the tentative budget is set to be introduced will be held Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Brick Township High School auditorium. The meeting will include a public comment period, though the formal public hearing on the budget will take place April 28.