In 3-2 vote, Howell council adopts $52.3M budget for 2019

HOWELL – By a margin of one vote, the Howell Township Council has adopted a $52.3 million budget to fund the operation of the municipality during 2019.

The vote to adopt the budget came during the council’s June 11 meeting. On a motion to adopt the spending plan, Deputy Mayor Evelyn O’Donnell, Councilman John Bonevich and Councilman Thomas Russo voted “yes.” Mayor Theresa Berger and Councilwoman Pamela Richmond voted “no.”

The final vote to adopt the budget concluded a process that began on April 2, when the governing body introduced the spending plan.

A public hearing on the budget was held on May 7. That evening, council members amended the budget and set May 21 as the date for its adoption.

However, the vote to adopt the budget was not held on May 21 and the action was rescheduled for June 11, when council members put their final seal on the document.

When the budget was introduced in April, the spending plan totaled $52.3 million and called for the collection of $28.94 million in taxes from Howell’s residential and commercial property owners.

That initial budget proposed a 2019 municipal tax rate of 40.2 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at $343,544 would have paid about $1,381 in municipal taxes.

The budget that was presented to the public on May 7 still totaled $52.3 million, but proposed a revised tax levy of $28.39 million – a reduction of $544,449 from the initial proposal.

That budget proposed a 2019 municipal tax rate of 39.4 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at $343,544 would pay about $1,353 in municipal taxes if that budget is adopted.

The spending plan with the $28.39 million tax levy is the budget that was adopted on June 11.

Howell’s 2018 budget totaled $51.06 million and collected $26.8 million in taxes from property owners. The municipal tax rate was 38.8 cents and the owner of a home assessed at $343,544 paid about $1,332 in municipal taxes.

Municipal taxes are one item on a property owner’s total tax bill. Property owners in Howell also pay Howell K-8 School District taxes, Freehold Regional High School District taxes, a fire district tax and Monmouth County taxes.

The amount of taxes an individual pays is based on the assessed value of his home and/or property and the tax rate that is set by each taxing entity.

To reduce the tax levy between April 2 and May 7, municipal officials appropriated an additional $200,000 from surplus funds (savings) and accounted for additional anticipated miscellaneous revenue of $100,000 and additional anticipated grant revenue of $268,689. They also reduced the reserve for uncollected taxes.

Howell will receive $7.9 million in state aid in 2019, which is the same amount the township received in 2018.

In commenting on her “no” vote, Richmond said she believed she was doing her due diligence and trying to be fiscally responsible.

“We could have done a little better job at getting to zero (maintaining the 2018 municipal tax rate with no increase), and I think the professionals did a good job, they were very diligent. I just felt that across the board, we could have made more cuts,” the councilwoman said.

Richmond said keeping the tax rate stable “is not impossible.”

“I think we could have gotten there with a couple more cuts here and there. I think we could have, we should have, made more cuts and kept it at (a) zero (increase),” she said.

In commenting on her “no” vote, Berger said, “Councilman Bonevich and I worked on lowering the tax rate. I requested a zero increase prior to new council (members) coming on board … instead there was an increase to our citizens, so I voted ‘no.’

“I was voted mayor to change the status quo of (the) previous council, not to continue to add to their mistakes and tax our citizens to the point of them leaving Howell. Hopefully, the township manager and our professionals will work on this for our 2020 budget,” Berger said.

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