Local budgets for 2018 (and 2018-19 in the case of the school district) have now all been unveiled, giving South Orange and Maplewood residents a clearer idea of what the impact will be on their personal budgets this year into next year.
Roughly 58% of your local tax bill goes to the South Orange-Maplewood School District and approximately 27% goes to the town, with the remainder going to Essex County.
For those watching their pocketbooks, the news is mostly good: The Township of South Orange Village, Maplewood Township and Essex County are each keeping their budgets below the 2% cap mandated by state law. That may not sound extraordinary, but each of those entities has the ability to place certain budget items outside the cap and use banked cap unspent in previous years. Each is also dealing with fixed contracts for employees that mandate salary increases, health care and pension payments.
The school district, however, is making use of banked cap in order to help close a $4.2 million budget gap without resorting to staff reductions or program cuts. Note that the school district budget is for the 2018-19 school year.
South Orange continues infrastructure improvements
South Orange unveiled its 2018 budget of $37,142,670.57 at its March 26 Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting. If passed, the budget will increase South Orange residents’ municipal tax bills by 1.9% or $91.43 for the average assessed household (value of $581,000). The budget allows for a continued aggressive approach to infrastructure improvement projects on Township-owned buildings without using banked cap, said Village President Sheena Collum. A second reading of the budget, a hearing and final passage is scheduled for the BOT’s next meeting on April 23.
Maplewood sees new revenue, but also increased expenses
Maplewood introduced a 2018 budget of $45,006,883 at its March 20 Township Committee meeting. If passed, the budget will increase Maplewood residents’ municipal taxes by 1.92%. The average residential property owner (with a value of $497,500) will pay $78.17 more in municipal taxes in 2018. While the town is seeing increased revenue ($150K in Woodland rentals, $300K from Avalon Bay, $600K from a state grant for paving), the Township has also seen increased expenses in storm cleanup ($100K), health and liability insurance, pension payments and salaries. The Township is also leaving $2 million in its fund balance in order to assure a high credit rating as interest rates increase. The Township Committee will hold a second reading, hearing and final vote on the 2018 budget on April 17.
Essex County keeps taxes low, increases revenue through detention centers
Essex County unveiled its 2018 budget way back in January. According to County officials, the $725 Million budget has a minimal impact on taxes with an increase of only 0.75 percent this year. Major revenue streams for the county are its hospital and parks — as well as its detention facilities housing juveniles, federal prisoners and immigration detainees. Read Patch’s coverage of the County budget here.
School district uses increased state aid, spending freeze to close gap with zero cuts to staff, programs
On March 26, the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education approved a $137,352,722 budget that would necessitate a 2.34% tax levy increase. The district used banked cap to go above the 2% tax cap on school budgets. District administrators said they will be able to close a $4.2 million budget gap through a spending freeze and other measures. The spending freeze originally was targeted at $3.3 million in savings. That amount was lowered to $2.8 million when the district received about a half a million more dollars in state aid for next year than it did for 2017-18. That tax levy increase will break down to an average household impact of $271 in Maplewood and $116 in South Orange.
Interim Superintendent Dr. Thomas Ficarra noted that part of the spending freeze would be deferring maintenance projects that could be addressed in a new facilities plan to be unveiled shortly. In presenting the budget, Ficarra and South Orange-Maplewood School District Business Administrator Paul Roth noted that the district would be helping to control costs partly through bringing soaring out-of-district placements in house through hiring, training, programming and more. Read Village Green’s report on out-of-district placements here.
Regarding the difference in tax impact for Maplewood vs. South Orange households, Roth explained that it was a result of the recent joint two-town revaluation, where Maplewood had made a net valuation gain that was substantially larger than South Orange’s increase (Roth said that the net valuation for Maplewood was approximately $800M vs. $600M for South Orange), thereby flipping the share.
The $91.43 town tax increase and $116 school district tax increase for South Orange add up to a combined $207.43 average increase for South Orange households, not counting the 0.75% increased in County taxes.
The $78.17 town tax increase plus the $271 school district tax increase for Maplewood add up to a combined $349.17 average increase for Maplewood households, not counting the 0.75% increased in County taxes.