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Brick School Budget Sheds 16 Jobs, Hikes Taxes by $3.5M

Board of Education members debate at the Jan. 7, 2016 meeting. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Board of Education members debate at the Jan. 7, 2016 meeting. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Brick taxpayers will have to reach further into their wallets to pay the annual school tax levy for the 2016-17 school year.

After initially turning down a $5.7 million tax increase, then proposing a $2.3 million increase, the final increase expected to be adopted by the board at a special meeting Monday will be $3.5 million, above the state’s 2 percent tax levy cap.

The district can raise taxes above the cap this year because they did not raise taxes in prior years. Under a controversial mechanism known as a “cap bank,” school districts are free to raise taxes above the cap by the difference they remained under it over the three prior years. For the average Brick resident with a home assessed at $293,600, the $149,999,323 spending plan will cost an additional $98.90 per year in property taxes. That figure is in addition to tax increases from the municipal and county governments.

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The budget eliminates 14 teaching positions, though 10 will be through attrition, said Interim Superintendent Thomas Gialanella. One administrator position, which is not currently filled, and one teacher aide position will also be cut.

The additional tax increase tacked on since the board adopted a tentative budget last month can mainly be traced to increased employee healthcare costs, which are still something of an unknown to district officials. The district’s new insurance broker has recommended switching to a self-insurance plan, but still advised Business Administrator James Edwards to add more than $500,000 to the budget.

The budget also funds repairs to Brick Township High School’s East Gym, which has fallen into disrepair, plus technology investments and the addition of a STEM Academy at both high schools (see separate story).

Board President John Lamela, a school administrator in Jackson Township, defended the increased healthcare costs but admitted the budget was not “pleasant.”

“We just have to balance our books and pay the bills,” said Lamela.

The board has set a meeting for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Technology Training Center in the district’s central office where the spending plan is expected to be adopted.

Numerous residents said tax increases would be a hardship, especially given New Jersey’s dubious status as the state with the highest property taxes in the nation.

“How elaborate of health care benefits are you going to allow the employees of the district to get before the people of the town can’t afford it?” resident Larry Reid asked, citing annual health insurance premiums for district employees that can eclipse $30,000 for family plans. “The people of this town in private industry do not have the low co-pays that the people in the Cadillac plans have, and at some point you’re going to have to make adjustments to that. The townspeople who don’t work for a school district or a public entity have to absorb those costs.”

“Look at the number of houses for sale,” said resident Victor Finamore, telling board members that people are moving out of Brick due to the level of taxation.

“There is not a money tree, and the taxpayers are not a Mac machine,” said board member Karyn Cusanelli.

Some board members were more positive on the budget, citing hard work put in by officials to bring down the tax levy from the initial proposal.

“To me, it sounds like 30 cents a day,” said board member John Barton. “It’s not like we’re on the board to just throw money around in places where it doesn’t have to be put.”

“I don’t want higher taxes, I don’t want to pay more money, but at the same time I have children in the district and we’re investing in their future,” said board member Stephanie Wohlrab. “My father always said, ‘you get what you pay for.'”