Mayor Shing-fu Hsueh has submitted a $39.9 million budget for 2017 to township council that proposes raising taxes by 1.6 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
Overall, the budget is an increase of $979,000 (2.51 percent) from last year’s budget. As currently proposed, the 1.6 cents increase would translate to an additional $84 a year in municipal taxes for a home valued at West Windsor’s average of $522,601. The municipal portion accounts for roughly 15 percent of a resident’s total property tax bill.
The township council has started to hold special sessions to pore over the budget and is expected to introduce the spending plan later this month or in April. Under West Windsor’s form of government, the mayor proposes a budget, and then it is the job of council to finalize the plan, hold a public hearing and then approve a final budget.
In his budget statement, Hsueh called the tax increase “unavoidable” and cites the impact of decisions in recent years by the council to not increase taxes. The township kept the tax rate flat in both 2014 and 2015.
Last year, the council reduced the mayor’s proposed tax rate increase from 1.5 cents to 1 cent, reducing the tax levy by increasing the administration’s anticipated uniform construction fee revenue by $200,000. Those revenues actually wound up falling short by $225,000.
Hsueh and township CFO Joanne Louth prefer to under-anticipate revenues and over-anticipate expenses, an approach designed to generate a year-end surplus that replenishes the town’s fund balance. At the beginning of the next year the majority of the fund balance is then allocated as revenue to pay for roughly 14 percent of the new year’s budget.
Hsueh said that the “over reliance on certain anticipated revenues” has led to a $500,000 decrease in the fund balance, from $6.3 million to $5.7 million. As a result, this year the administration is reducing the amount of fund balance money going towards the budget by $200,000 to $4.4 million.
On the expense side, the largest increase is $544,838 for group insurance. Salaries and wages, which represent 34 percent of the budget, went up $205,295, a 1.53 percent increase from last year.
The salary increase also includes the mayor’s request for an additional patrol officer in the police department. No additional officers have been added to the department in more than 10 years.
To pay for the proposed budget, the administration increased anticipated overall revenues by more than $55,000 to $15.6 million, thanks to a one-time $490,000 premium payment from a bond sale last year. The tax levy borne by residents for the rest of the budget is roughly $24.3 million.
Upcoming capital projects for 2017 include the completion of road improvements to Canal Pointe Boulevard and the resurfacing of the southbound lanes of Alexander Road from Vaughn Drive.
There are also several recreation improvements planned. The township is planning to install a picnic pavilion and restroom at both Duck Pond Park and the Conover recreation fields. The tennis and basketball courts at Community Park will also be repaired this year.
At the municipal complex, the township is currently soliciting bids to convert half of the post office building into offices for the Health and Recreation Department.