Lavallette officials this week introduced the borough’s 2020 budget which cuts expenses over the previous year, but includes a slight tax increase in order to bulk up the town’s surplus fund in case the ongoing coronavirus pandemic affects important revenue streams.
The borough’s spending plan calls for $9,216,883 in appropriations for 2020, down from $9,247,612 last year, but as a precautionary measure, raised the borough’s surplus fund from $750,000 to $1.6 million. The result, for the owner of a home worth $876,000, the borough’s average, will be a $33.22 tax increase, which represents a half-cent increase.
“I had intended to bring the new budget in at a quarter-of-a-cent, but that was before the coronavirus hit us, and now we’re faced with a lot of unknowns for the 2020 budget,” said Mayor Walter LaCicero.
Beach operations are one of the main drivers of the increase. While the borough would save money on salaries for lifeguards and badge checkers if the beach was to remain closed during the summer season, there are fixed costs to maintain the beach that won’t go away, LaCicero said. Additionally, any affect the virus has on the borough’s employees could financially impact the town’s coffers.
“We have unknowns when it comes to our regular labor force,” said LaCicero. “If you lose police officers to coronavirus, or public works employees, we need to replace them because we need to serve [residents].”
Also, the mayor said, with economic hardships guaranteed to affect some residents, there is the chance that taxes may go unpaid on some properties.
“Do we really need $1.6 million to protect ourselves?” asked Councilwoman Joanne Filippone. “If people are under hardship, they’re still under hardship when we increase their taxes.”
LaCicero replied that a healthy surplus was a substantial reason the borough bounced back quickly from Superstorm Sandy.
“We’re afraid that if we have real issues on the beach, it could be hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he added.
The average municipal tax bill in Lavallette (not including school or counter taxes) is $1,750, and the borough has the third-lowest municipal tax rate in New Jersey.