The Township Council introduced the 2013 budget Thursday, setting it at about $39 million with no tax increase.
“We are pleased to introduce a budget that begins the discussion with no tax increase for the Bridgewater residents," councilman, and budget subcommittee member, Filipe Pedroso said in a statement after the meeting. "While we introduced the budget tonight, this is just the start of the process.”
The total 2013 budget is currently set at $38,935,484.46, an increase of 1.26 percent over the 2012 budget of $38,451,229.13.
Residents will pay a . This is exactly the same as the tax impact of the 2012 budget.
The 2013 budget includes a few extra appropriations, including $195,000 for current litigation that is not expected to be included in future budgets, as well as appropriations of funding to replace police cars damaged during Hurricane Irene. The latter is being paid for over five years, and the township is in year two, appropriating $26,400 this year.
The township is also anticipating flat state aid of $5,904,261, although official numbers are not being released until Feb. 28.
With the budget as it stands now, it includes $147,200 budgeted for costs associated with cleanup from Superstorm Sandy. The township is planning to apply to FEMA for reimbursement of 75 percent of the costs associated, and the governor has mandated that municipalities can finance these storm-related costs over a five-year period, which the township is planning to do.
In terms of pensions and health benefits, recent changes to the laws are requiring pension contributions from the township to increase by $95,680, and health benefit contributions from employees will be set at $300,000, offsetting any increases in premiums this year.
The township is also looking at saving $65,000 in unemployment insurance on employees who have left the payroll.
In addition to the introduction of the budget, the council introduced an ordinance to establish a cap bank for future needs.
This ordinance is approved annually, but does not have any bearing on expenditures.
"The municipal budget is presented with a 0 percent tax increase," said township administrator James Naples. "What we are doing is by increasing the allowable appropriation limit, we will take the difference between what the budget is and what the limit is, and put it in a bank."
"That gives us flexibility in future years should there be unforeseen issues that call for the budget to increase," he added.
The ordinance, Naples said, authorizes the township to exceed its cap by 1 percent, but that has nothing to do with the tax levy cap. This ordinance allows the township to increase its budget by 3.5 percent, rather than the state-mandated 2.5 percent. In this case, the township has chosen a 1 percent increase above the final appropriations allowed by the state, for a total of $310,081.02.
"We have done this in previous years, and we haven't used the money," he said.
But, Naples said, every two years some of the money drops so, so $400,000 drops off from the bank this year.
"There is $3.8 million in the bank at our disposal should we need to increase the allowable limit," he said. "We are not increasing expenditures with this resolution."
Naples said no additional expenses would be put on the residents without the approval of the council anyway, and this "bank" is not actual expenditures or funds, just the promise of them if the money is needed.
A public hearing for this ordinance will be held March 18.
"Our residents demand fiscal responsibility, and the Bridgewater team is on the right track by beginning our discussion with no tax increase," Pedroso said. "The administration did an admirable job in preparing this budget, and now it is the council’s responsibility to finish the job.”
Councilman, and budget subcommittee member Matthew Moench agreed, and said discussions about the budget will continue among council members and the administration in the coming weeks.
"I am pleased with the direction that the budget has taken this year, and we look forward to working with our fellow council members and Mayor [Dan] Hayes to finalize a budget that will not increase the burdens on our residents, while still maintaining the services demanded by our residents," he said.
Public hearing for the budget will be held April 1.
Copies will be available for viewing at the Bridgewater Township Library and the municipal building.