A Message from Mayor Darlene Post
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
As many of you know, the Township recently completed a Municipal Wide Reassessment. Value letters for all properties have been mailed.
The reassessment was needed to better align the values to the current market conditions. Last year, the Township faced more than 450 tax appeals, which created financial hardship not only in settling the appeals, but also in legal fees. The enormity of the financial impact forced the Township to go before the State Local Finance Board to request approval for a $750,000 refunding bond ordinance. Conducting the reassessment brings the values into alignment with today’s economy and real estate market, so while we can anticipate an impact on the tax rate, we do so recognizing that we are basing our budget on real values and therefore, will not spend 2013 being reactive to the enormous burden of tax appeals.
Whenever a municipality conducts a revaluation or reassessment, the deadline to file tax appeals is extended. Therefore, the Township’s deadline to file will be moved to May 1 (as opposed to April 1).
Our fiscal horizon is a challenging one – not only for Little Falls, but for all communities across the State. In February, I presented to the Council for introduction the Municipal Budget for 2013. The projected municipal portion of the tax rate for 2013 is $0.728, representing a 1.2 cent increase per $100 of assessed valuation over the re-casted 2012 tax rate of $.716. This equates to a $35 increase in taxes for municipal purposes on an average home assessed at $293,600. Every $100,000 of assessed valuation represents a $12 increase.
This budget was developed with diligence and recognition that we must address the need to develop surplus, budget accordingly for 2012 tax appeals that have yet to be resolved; and meet our operational and capital needs. The Township’s Finance Committee worked with me on the development of this budget and together, we presented a budget that meets our needs as efficiently as possible.
Highlights of the 2013 municipal budget include an anticipated surplus of $150,000 – which is up from $0 in 2012. Having surplus is looked upon favorably by bond rating agencies, and shows our effort to set aside money for emergencies and cash flow purposes. The Township also set aside $270,000 for pending 2012 tax appeals – something we did not budget for last year and resulted in the need to request approval from the Local Finance Board for a $750,000 refunding bond ordinance. While the need to close out outstanding tax appeals for large commercial properties may find us back before the Local Finance Board, this time, we will be able to demonstrate financial planning through the retention of surplus and funding the Township’s reserve for tax appeals. These things show the State that, like so many of our neighbors, we faced an unprecedented fiscal challenge due to tax appeals, and we are being strategic in the development of our 2013 budget to allow for that.
The Township is losing some revenue this year in comparison to last year. The library surplus received in 2012 is not an annual revenue source and, last year, we also completed a multi-year payment for sewer hookup fees as well. The Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program executed with Montclair State University will see a 20% decrease in revenue this, the second year of a five-year agreement.
In appropriations highlights, the Township will not be offering across-the-board raises for its municipal employees. While I believe greatly in rewarding good work, across-the-board increases are not fiscally prudent, nor are they an equitable way to reward employees. In the future, merit-based increases will be considered, ensuring more fiscal accountability while rewarding our hard workers.
Our capital improvement program will be handled in a new way that I believe is more effective and a smart way to approach large-scale projects. Capital requests will be vetted by department heads and our Business Administrator. Requests that pass that first round of review will then go on to the Township Council’s Finance Committee, who have established parameters for capital requests that include complete inventories of existing equipment and detailed justification for each request. If the Committee approves the request, only then is a bond ordinance prepared and presented to the Council and subject to a public hearing. The many layers of examination allow for thorough review and insight from a diverse group of people dedicated to doing the right thing for our town and our taxpayers.
The municipal budget structure has been changed somewhat in an effort to ensure our present and future needs are met. The fully-funded portion of the budget now includes a Technology line item. Currently, the Township’s Technology Committee is completing an inventory of all computers, printers, fax machines, and software packages. The inventory will provide us with a road map for what equipment is aging and needs to be replaced and how we can be more consistent with software packages and with other kinds of hardware that will allow for more electronic record-keeping and for more computerized forms that make it easier for residents to do business with the Township.
As always, the introduced budget is available in the Clerk’s office. New this year, the introduced budget is also available on the Township’s web site www.lfnj.com under the Budget link of the Government tab at the top of the page.
I have implemented changes I hope will serve to encourage communication. Department heads attend council meetings; more information than ever before is available on the Web site, and when we have an issue that goes beyond the Council’s scope, we don’t turn our backs. The issue of safety in our schools is one such example. The policies and procedures regulating school safety lie in the hands of our Township’s two superintendents: Dr. Viktor Joganow from Passaic Valley High School and Bill Petrick from the Little Falls School District. They work in close contact on a daily basis with our Police Chief John Dmuchowski. While our role in this is to ensure our Police Chief is available to provide expertise and to guide and assist as needed, the day-to-day responsibility of our children while in school falls to the superintendents. That is why I invited both to attend a recent Council meeting and share what information they could without divulging security plans. Their presentations were detailed, and very much on point in that our children are their top priority – from educating them to keeping them safe – this presentation went a long way in assuaging fears and provided assurance that protecting our children is an active, ongoing project.
I appreciate those of you who have called, emailed, or commented to me directly that they value and appreciate these efforts. I, too, appreciate the continued volunteerism and dedication so many of you have to our Town. We certainly have an aggressive and productive agenda ahead for 2013!