A proposed budget in Lavallette would raise the municipal portion of residents’ tax bills by 16 percent, primarily attributed to debt leftover from the Superstorm Sandy cleanup.
Borough officials are hoping to receive a $600,000 state Essential Services Grant that would reduce the tax increase to about 2 percent. Though the borough is constrained by a 2 percent cap on expenditure and tax levy increases, debt service is exempt from the limit. The $8,905,099 budget as a whole spends $246,255 less than 2015 and is technically $741,000 under the cap, Borough Administrator Christopher Parlow said.
In the event the borough does not receive the grant funding – aimed at making up for lost ratables in the wake of Superstorm Sandy – “the pencil is going to get sharp and we’re going to have to bring this budget down,” Mayor Walter LaCicero said.
“We certainly cannot increase taxes by 16 percent,” LaCicero added.
Parlow said the bulk of the debt service is related to emergency borrowing that was conducted in the wake of Sandy. Specifically, he said, the borough owes $921,000 to AshBritt Inc., the company that was hired to remove debris following the storm. Lavallette’s total bill from AshBritt was about $9 million, Parlow said, with FEMA having picked up 90 percent of the cost. The remainder is due by 2017 since the bonding used to fund the cleanup was borrowed underemergency appropriations.
“That’s the 900 pound gorilla in the room, that $900,000 bill to AshBritt the taxpayers have to pay,” said Parlow.
Lavallette borrowed $4.7 million after the storm to fund debris cleanup and repairs to the borough’s water and electric utilities. About $1.9 million has already been repaid.
The borough is expected to hear whether the grant funding will come through over the next several weeks. The state will allow as many as 10 municipalities to share about $14 million. Locally, Seaside Heights and Brick Township have also applied for relief.
“I wish this could get resolved quicker, but the federal government moves very slowly,” LaCicero said.