The Montclair Township Council has introduced a municipal budget of almost $100 million for 2023 that sees a 4.59% total increase over 2022 and a 1.95% increase in the local tax levy, with an average residential tax bill of $5,200, municipal officials said.
For homeowners with a property assessed at $500,000, the tax increase for 2023 would be $63.35, the budget shows. For homeowners with a property assessed at $750,000, the increase would be $95.02, and for homeowners with a property assessed at $1 million, the increase would be $126.70 for the current year, the spending plan states.
Township officials held a budget presentation on Monday, May 8, to provide an opportunity for Montclair residents to hear details on how the budget was put together for this year and how the increased tax levy will be apportioned to municipal services.
The township’s chief financial officer, Padmaja Rao, and its financial consultant, Bob Benecke, presented the financial overview to an audience of about 17 people. Montclair residents will have an additional opportunity to question municipal officials about the proposed spending plan at the Township Council’s public hearing and vote on May 16 at 6 p.m.
Acting Township Manager Brian Scantlebury told residents that the budget in its current form is being reviewed by councilors, therefore no numbers can be changed. He emphasized that the Tuesday night presentation was for information only.
One reason is that the year is already half-gone by the time the councilors approve the budget, and the money is already “half spent,” Benecke explained. The municipality has to wait for the school district and Essex County to approve their budgets before sending out tax bills, he said.
The total budget of $99,990,464 is a 4.59% increase from 2022’s spending plan of $95,598,999. The local tax levy – the amount that residents pay – is increasing to $59,144,712 from $58,014,756 last year, a rise of 1.95%. This is below the statutory spending cap of 2 percent.
The $5,200 average tax levy pays for such municipal responsibilities as the township police and fire departments, road upkeep, garbage and recycling collection, snow removal, recreation programs, senior services, code enforcement and community development, Rao said. The township has also been focusing on infrastructure upgrades over the past few years, Rao said. Twenty percent of the overall budget is debt service; the long-term goal is to use savings for infrastructure, she said.
The township is receiving $3.14 million in state aid; this is $175,000, or 5.9%, more than the amount received in 2022.
The tax levy will also add to the municipal surplus, which will increase over 12% to $7.5 million, Rao said. “We are using some of it to stabilize the taxes,” she said.
Very little in the municipal budget is discretionary spending, or able to be changed, Rao told residents. That’s because the majority of spending is contractual obligations, including salaries and wages set by contract, pensions, health insurance payments and debt service, she explained. “There’s very little room to do anything,” she said.
Montclair has received funds over the past few years from the American Rescue Plan, a federal program instituted during the pandemic to offset inflation and a possible tax increase. This year, the township has $2 million from this program. In 2022, the municipality used about $818,000 of the award for the parking authority which was a one-time expense, she said. But this is the last year that the township will receive this money, Rao said, and municipal officials need to plan for the future when this revenue no longer exists.
There has been some controversy over the proposed budget for the township’s paid fire department, which will be increasing 7.5% to $12.7 million. The fire department will lose one to four people within six to nine months through attrition and retirement, Benecke said, and new employees need to be trained. The municipal budget provides for 76 firefighters, which is fewer than the number fire department officials have requested.
But some things did change from last year, which caused budgetary differences in certain departments, Rao said.
The Health Department received a large grant of $537,000, which will pay for a social worker and other programming, she said. In addition, an employee retired, which brought down the amount for salaries and wages, she said. A senior services director had been budgeted for last year but the position had not been filled; now, a person “is on her way,” Rao said. These items resulted in an overall increase to the department budget of just 6%.
The budget for senior services is increasing 17% this year to about $446,000 due to salaries and to a shared-service agreement with the county for bus service that they’re providing to Montclair seniors.
Some residents asked questions regarding the structure of the school district taxes. They were concerned that the school district is losing science and math teachers and asked why certain funds the municipality receives in revenues couldn’t be given to the school district to save those educator jobs. The municipal tax levy has no relation to the school tax levy, Benecke said, and there is no reason to think that the school district will lower its tax levy based on what the municipality does with its budget.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the county in which Montclair is located. It is Essex County.