Tax Questions Presented at BOE Meeting
Followed similar events from council meeting
While the Town Council answered questions about the recently delivered tax bills in front of hundreds of residents the board was in front of just a handful of residents but many of the same questions were asked.
Two residents, Howard West and Jim Barden, who had each spoken at Tuesday's meeting returned on Wednesday to find out more information about the process and any steps the board planned to take in the future.
West said this week's meetings were the first of what he expected to be many meetings he will attend going forward. "We as the public have a responsibility to come to board meetings," he said. "I'm going to start doing that and come to the council meetings. I'm going to start doing that."
While he was new to coming to the meetings, West said he has lived in town for many years and said the people on the council and the board have a responsibility to serve the residents. "As leaders in these different areas we look to you guys to inform us of the important decisions," he said.
Barden also said he was looking for leadership to help guide the township through tough economic times. "I kind of challenged the council last night to kind of do a better role of being leaders in the community to either communicate more, work on our behalf with the school board, with the county, with whoever it might be who is going to end up having an impact on our taxes," he said.
He laid out a similar challenge to the board of education. "Keep saying what can we do that can reduce our cots. What are the hard decisions that have to be made that can bring the costs down," he said. "I don't know what that is, but thinking about that companies have to do that our government has to do that too."
After the two meetings West said he was looking for some accountability for what he later described as a "perfect storm" where his house assessment dropped while his taxes increased. "Last night you hear from the town council that the board (of education) is totally out of our scope and we don't have any control and so there's no accountability," he said. "So you go to the county, they tell you you have to go to your town because we're really not accountable for that."
From the time he received his tax bill on Saturday to Wednesday's meeting West said it has been "really kind of interesting because I've come to find out that nobody really has accountability for my taxes," he said.
Board President Tim O'Brien said he understood many of West's questions. "I'm sure your concerns are concerned by a lot of community members," he said. O'Brien said he also got his bill on Saturday. "I got my tax bill the same time you got yours and was also surprised."
Looking at the big picture O'Brien said there were parts of the process that were beyond the board's control. "There are things that we control and have knowledge of and are responsible for and there are things that we don't have control over and are not really able to take their position on one way or another."
O'Brien said things like the county ordered reassessment are parts of the budget and taxing process they have no control over. "We are charged with trying to maintain a thorough and efficient board of education. That's obviously been a commitment of the board."
One area both residents said they had issues with was the decision by the Board of Education to move their elections to November. That move also meant that if the board's budget came in with less than a two percent increase it did not need to be put to a public vote.
The public may not get to vote on the budget but O'Brien said that does not change the goals the board has had in previous years when plans needed public approval. "We are focused on areas that are critical for everyone of our students in the district," he said. "We are also very cognizant that we're in a recession and there is a significant strain on the taxpayer."
He pointed to the fact that not only did the board keep the tax levy flat from last year, they reduced it for residents. "We had an opportunity to do so and we did that," he said. "That was our commitment to try to walk that balance."
Over the course of the meeting Board Secretary Ron Sanasac said during the period when the district was putting the budget together they were told the gross assessment for the town was down 20 percent from $6.6 to $5.5 billion. "When we get our certified taxes and certified ratables from the township we just get the big numbers," he said.
O'Brien said because of the decrease of the township's reassessment it had a direct impact on the tax numbers. "In this case it (the budget) was reduced by a million, which seems like a lot of money, but in a $5.5 billion ratable the impact of a million has an impact but with the reassessment being set by the county they controlled the calculation."
West said he believed the events of the past few days would be enough to get residents like him more involved in the process. "My feeling is this group is going to be challenged next year to sharpen your pencil and my thinking is to start educating the community of what is being done, what can be done, and what options are there," he said.
By doing that, he said "the community as a whole can come to some consensus about what way we should drive in and make some productions in the budget, because with the shift of the tax burden I don't know if you're necessarily going to see these folks go away."
After the meeting West said he was ready to be more involved in the process after seeing how the two bodies work. "Obviously you can't address it now, but it needs to be addressed in the future because you're going to take a community that is really a good place to live, a really good place to raise a family and you're going to start to have a negative impact on it."
O'Brien said during the meeting he welcomed community involvement to help guide how issues like taxes and budgets are handled in the future. "A lot of folks don't pay a lot of attention to what's going on here because they feel it's in good shape," he said.
"One benefit from this is that it's a catalyst for more citizens getting involved not only to understand the challenges we face but what we're doing to tackle them head on," the president added.
Following the meeting O'Brien said areas of focus like the budget and student achievement will continue to be priorities for the board. "We look at each year what we are required to do in order to meet our mandate and make sure that we have the staffing in place to meet that mandate," he said. "We operate the best way we can with people being efficient and we've been successful the past couple of years in keeping the general tax levy flat or lowered."
He said he also has been frustrated by the past few days. "It's very frustrating for a lot of people," he said. "As a taxpayer I can understand that. We'll continue to focus on doing our best to control costs and provide a quality education."