Brick officials – after months of hammering out a spending plan for the year and lobbying the state to provide relief from a tax base still stunted from the effects of Superstorm Sandy – passed its annual budget Monday night in a unanimous vote.
The budget comes with a slight tax hike of 0.9 cents per $100 of assessed real estate value, an increase that will amount to $27 per year for the owner of a home valued at $292,600, the township average.
Mayor John Ducey said his finance team began the year with the prospect of a 9.21 cent tax hike due to the ongoing costs of Sandy alone, which would have amounted to a $270 increase for the average homeowners. Through a combination of cost-saving measures and the reduction of the township’s debt load, the large tax increase was pared down by the time the budget was introduced. Last week, Gov. Chris Christie announced Brick would receive $1,196,675 in state aid to assist with the ongoing cost of Sandy recovery, which allowed the tax rate to be brought down further.
The state aid will also allow the township to add four police officers to the force, bringing the total number of sworn officers to 136.
“We need as many police officers on the street, and doing programs for our residents, as we can,” said Ducey.
The township was able to find savings in numerous areas. Ducey touted decreases of $100,000 or more in several categories, including animal control, legal fees, engineering fees, workers compensation premiums, and bond interest.
Still, the township is facing higher labor costs. Earlier this year, the township council approved a 9 percent raise over three years for employees of three unions: the Policemen’s Benevolent Association, Transport Workers Union and two units of the Teamsters. The raise will cost $852,927 over the first year.
Benefits costs also rose this year, with premiums for employee health plans ranging between $34,162 and $34,652 for family coverage and between $12,627 and $12,842 for individual coverage. Employees, as a whole, contribute 13 percent to the cost of the plans, figures showed, though individual contributions vary with salaries. Benefits costs rose about 9 percent this year while prescription benefit costs rose by a staggering 35 percent, according to officials.
Overall, the township salary and wage line item this year increased by $750,651.
Ducey said that, in addition to the extra police officers, the township had to add more building inspectors to keep of the with the demand of continued rebuilding from the storm.