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Tax Rate Dominates Public Portion of Township Meeting

Residents voice concerns with raised rates

Since , residents have at seeing their rates go up at  

Tuesday night's council meeting provided some another opportunity and the council members encouraged their participation and told them to get other people involved as well. 

Vicki Blaess was the first resident to speak and said she was concerned by how much her taxes have gone up in recent years. "I understand the assessments and you did raise the rate because you're trying to get the money from somewhere," she said. 

When she said she believed like other governmental agencies there was a spending problem rather than a revenue problem, Deputy Mayor William Gotto responded by saying that was not the case in Howell. "We have a revenue problem in Howell, a severe revenue problem."

Gotto said that was why the council heard a presentation earlier in the meeting about . He said it was also why they were taking a second look at a capital ordinance that had originally been approved but was voted down later on Tuesday.

Mayor Robert Walsh said a lot of work had already been done in the township to keep spending down and help with the tax rates for residents. "We've done everything that we can," he said. "We've cut 20 percent of our employees in the last six years and our employees have taken no pay raises."

Walsh said they have tried many different avenues to help in difficult economic times. "At the same time we have had medical costs go through the roof that we have no control over, pension costs increases and less state money," he said. "Do I think there's waste in government? The answer is absolutely, but it doesn't allow you to walk in tomorrow and get rid of your 25 employees that are doing the least. That's not the way it works. You must play with the hand that is dealt to the best of your ability."

When Blaess addressed the council she also said she believed there was a lack of foresight by the members in addressing similar issues in the future. "We're all feeling the crunch. I understand that," she said. "I just wanted to put a face to the numbers. I don't want you to confuse the lack of attendance with lack of interest."

Councilman Robert Nicastro said that from the outside he understood how she could see it as a lack of foresight, but said that was not the case for the people sitting at the dais. "We've all been there," he said. "One of the incentives to sit here as taxpayers, and I'm a taxpayer and my taxes went up $1200, is to do everything I can, everything we can in our powers because we are also taxpayers (to keep the rates as low as possible,) he said. 

In the end though Nicastro said the problem rests not at , but rather the State House in Trenton. "Until the legislation changes where taxes, property taxes fund your school, fund municipalities, fund your county, fund everything, we're going to pay higher taxes in New Jersey," he said. 

That is why Nicastro said the council has been to address pending legislation that could help alleviate the burden on taxpayers. "Until we get behind the initiatives that have to happen, this is what we're facing," he said. "You can talk about the schools, you can talk about the taxing entities. The bottom line is there's a cost to the services. We have to be responsible to make sure the service is affordable."

Nicastro said, and has said in the past that he has been glad to see the community get involved over the tax issue. "It's good to be frustrated, but take that frustration and you've gotta call the numbers we post," he said. 

Mayor Walsh agreed, "Change has to come from down in Trenton," he said. "There's a lot of heat starting to come." 

Another resident who spoke at Tuesday's meeting was Howard West who has been one of the most vocal speakers at recent meetings. "We all understand the plight that we're in in terms of what this council has control over from a budgetary perspective, along with with the school board has control over and what the county has control over," he said.

At the same time West said the budgets at the local and county level are not set at the state or federal levels. "There are aspects of our costs that we as taxpayers and as residents of this town have some accountability over, some responsibility and some control over," he said. "As the township committee you represent the people. We understand that you only have control over 17 percent, but as the township committee you represent the concerns of all the residents of the town."

Deputy Mayor Gotto said the township already is very strict with their spending. "There isn't an expense that comes past our administration for us to approve that if there's a better way to do it, a better way to save money, or if we consolidate that service it gets looked at at ever nickel we spend on the municipal budget every single day," he said. 

While admitting there was little if anything the council could do to fix the tax problem this year, West also asked what was being done for the future.

He suggested the council look into possibly forming a committee of township volunteers to look at spending and where more cuts could be made. "Are there opportunities from a budget perspective at the board of education and are there opportunities at the township level to say hey look, these are the opportunities we have or these are the areas that we've looked at that would have the least negative impact on either students or our services that we provide to the community," he said. 

Putting that information out to the public, he said, would help get the community involved and help them to know where their tax dollars were going. 

Mayor Walsh, who said he got his start in community involvement a decade ago as a member of the board of education's finance committee said the two groups work together on a regular basis to look at cost savings. "There's a lot of things that are done in a joint venture with the township and the school board," he said. That can include anything from road plowing to emergency situations to garbage collection according to Walsh. 

Township Manager Helene Schlegel said the annual budget process is open to the public starting in November when she holds meetings witih department heads to see what their needs will be for the upcoming year. There is then another public process when the budget is up for adoption. 

The is scheduled to meet tonight at 8 p.m. at Middle School North. The next meeting of the Mayor and Council is scheduled for Sept. 4 at the . The date for the second council meeting in September has not been established as the original date coincides with Rosh Hashanah.

Chief Wahoo August 15, 2012 at 09:40 PM
if they have done all they can, they did an awful job.....what a bunch of clowns !
Slippery Slope August 16, 2012 at 01:10 AM
Keep laying people off and cutting services until the unions give up some of their benefits. Lower all starting salaries to 1990 levels. people will still be lining up for jobs. Cut benefits in half. Cut, cut cut.
Slippery Slope August 16, 2012 at 01:10 AM
Keep laying people off and cutting services until the unions give up some of their benefits. Lower all starting salaries to 1990 levels. people will still be lining up for jobs. Cut benefits in half. Cut, cut cut.
Ken August 16, 2012 at 02:38 PM
???
Ken August 16, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Regarding Mr. Wests' suggestion of a Committee to look at spending, etc; GREAT IDEA !! At the March 10, 2009 Council meeting the Council Disbanded the "Finance Review Committee", by way of resolution R-09-101. (For the details send in an OPRA request for the resolution) The reason stated in the resolution makes good sense. The problem is, that it's been more than 3 years since this resolution was approved an NOTHING has been done to create a new committee. It's not a case of the council not being reminded in the past, it seems like it just falls of deaf ears, and this needs to change! [Excerpt from R-09-101] {.....but do to the pressing economic conditions facing the Township and Country, a more expansive committee with differing expertise needs to be created to review the Township budget and expenditures for the future;....} The taxpayers/residents/voters need to be involved in their own destiny and play a part in determining how much they will be taxed. We are supposed to be stakeholders/partners in the process. I'm sure that if residents were involved with the budget & expenditure process, the amount to be raised by taxation for 2012 ($24,888,500.00) would have been much lower, and perhaps resulting in a tax decrease..... The question is, when will this new and improved committee be established. If not, the people need to know the reason and have an opportunity to provide some input... It's our money...
Ken August 16, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Regarding the comments "We have a revenue Problem", It's an issue with the way Revenue is accounted for or identified in the Budget. As an example, at the July 17, 2012 Council meeting, Mayor Walsh announced that we were getting $750,000.00 in rental income from the new Municipal Building (a/k/a "Global" Building). ( Check the video starting at 35:01).However, if you look at Sheet 10 of the 2012 Adopted Budget there is a line item identified as [Anticipated for 2012] "Rental Income" with an amount of $540,000.00. That's $210,000.00. that appears not to be reflected in the revenue stream of the budget i There are other items of revenue that cannot be identified in the budget and may be incorporated into some other line item like anticipated surpluss.
Into Perspective August 16, 2012 at 08:16 PM
The residents who should be upset are those that had there tax bill decreased. That just means that they have over paid their fair share all these years. They should get a reimbursement for prior years over payment. For those who received a tax increase, they should be grateful that they got away with paying lower than their fair share of taxes all of those years. they are the lucky ones! Just sayin'.
Ken August 16, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Into Perspective is absolutely right: The Mayor keeps saying that the town was “Forced” to do the re-assessment, and they would not have done one if not ordered to. This is because the town had to refund $1,400,000.00 to the approximately 1,500+/- tax payers that had successful assessment appeals in 2011 and the County made the town go through the process. Of the $1.4 million, approximately $400,000.00 was refunded from “cash” and $1,000,000.00 of it was bonded for. This, of course, trickles down to an expense in the budget which all of us pay for down the road. If you look at the 8/3/12 Asbury Park Press [Howell taxpayers frustrated with hike], you will see this : …{.Following the 2012 assessment, the average assessed value of properties in Howell were $280,000, down from $350,000 before the reassessment, according to Helene Schlegel, township manager. A total of 18,881 properties decreased in value, while 552 increased from 2011 to 2012……}. So if we weren’t “Forced” to do the re-assessment, who knows how many more of the 18,881 property owners would have decided that they too should also file an appeal and we would wind up bonding and paying more to fund those tax refunds. NOTE:See next post for remainder:
Ken August 16, 2012 at 10:53 PM
Part 2 from Reply re Into Perspective Here is an article that shows a different philosophy on doing assessments, so that property values are kept current with the real estate market. I encourage you to take the time to read it. http://www.nj.com/news/local/index.ssf/2010/08/dozens_of_towns_reassessing_pr.html Here is an excerpt from the article: Having more frequent reassessments can lower property taxes for residents, said Orange Mayor Eldridge Hawkins Jr. Orange voted last week to approve funding for a reassessment that would be completed by January. When the city conducted its last revaluation, in 2006, housing prices were near their highest peaks. Now, many homeowners homes are assessed at values much higher than their real worth, costing them much more on their tax bills. It would be interesting to hear why Howell would not want to follow the same concepts
Jim Flynn August 16, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Looks like there is something wrong at Town Hall if what is being said is accurate Someone needs to provide some answers to the taxpayers. Good thing we are going to have an opportunity to make some council changes this November
Mike Rogers August 17, 2012 at 01:36 AM
I agree 100%. These people all give the same line, we done everything we can, what a line of B.S. None of these politicians want to make the tough decisions period. Not only do you need to freeze public workers salaries, but they need to be cut. You cannot expect the citizens to have their property values plummet, and continue to have property taxes go up a thousand dollars every year. We have already reached our breaking point, it's time for someone to really make cuts where it will make a difference, and it's time for Governor Christi and the state of N.J. to do as the Governor of Wisconsin has done and take on the unions and get these out of control pensions and salaries to be put in line with the regular working class citizens in this state.
anthony mazza August 17, 2012 at 11:19 PM
This mayor and council should be ashamed of themselves. They knew about the tax increase and sat on it and hoped that people would give them a pass since its the summer time. The could have given us a warning. They could have done a better job with the budget overall but did not. They failed. They need to go. Then after they knew they failed, they hid it (or tried to hide it). And the worst is Gotto. He is so arrogant. What a know it all. And he wants to be Mayor? That is like Obama wanting to be re-elected. Please give us a break. GOTTO GOTTA GO!!!
Jim Flynn August 18, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Anthony: It's called the "Mushroom Treatment". Just like he did with that non existant Resolution to negotiate the purchase of the Global Building purchase which materialized at 1:00 AM during the meeting http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=mushroom%20treatment
Jim August 19, 2012 at 12:44 PM
Then, let's take alot of these well thought out comments and suggestions and makr something happen. These are just words on paper (cyber-paper) until we get active. If you guys are willing, I ask you to join me through WWW.TAXPAYERWASTE.COM to stay connected on this issue and provide good ideas that can be presented to the council and school board. There is already some action being initiated through the school board meeting which could have significant impact on taxes and we are involved and need community involvement....also, awaiting some specific responses from Gov Christie's office in regardz to assessments and an FRHSD pay issue. So, we are trying to get involved and make things happen. Read our archived posts the past 220 months and maybe write on of your own. The site has visibility in DC, Trenton, and locally. Join us and let's make it happen!!
Josephine Smyth August 19, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Jim: Regarding "Making Something Happen", we need to first decide on who we want to occupy the Mayor and Council seats up for election this November. We need to know specifically how they plan to accomplish their goals. The Comments below are too General. We need to hear specifics of their plan: ><><><><><><><><>>><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>< Those that want to be Mayor of Howell: {Tri Town News} Taylor: I am very concerned with [municipal] spending. We need to forgo things until we can afford them. We should get the things we need, but the things we want can wait Gotto: Specifically, Gotto said he wants to work to stabilize property taxes while growing revenue, in addition to expanding communications, enhancing customer service, and improving infrastructure on Route 9 and Route 33 Field: “I want to make the government more responsive and open to the voters. It also seems to me that we need to make Howell a more livable community.”
Stop the insanity August 26, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Typically,small rural communities such as Howell do not have adequate real estate volume annual to create a sample big enough for a meaningful sales study. Without enough sales, you cannot reappraise property fairly or properly and achieve equalization. Rural communties need at least 2, perhaps 3, years to get enough data.

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