For more than an hour on July 7, the Bayonne City Council debated whether or not to pay the county their share of this year’s taxes.
Bayonne taxpayers are facing a 4.2 percent increase in the first quarter of 2008-2009 over last year’s first quarter tax bill, and nearly all of this is the result of increases in school and county taxes.
Each taxpayer pays a quarterly amount that includes local property taxes (determined by the Bayonne city budget), school taxes, and county taxes. The city collects the taxes for all three entities, then gives the schools and county their share.
At a special council meeting held on July 7, Bayonne Mayor Terrence Malloy said that the August tax bill will increase by about $82 for the average home assessed at $133,000. Of the $82 increase, $23 is due to county taxes. Schools account for $57, most of which is due to payments on debt service, Malloy said.
“I came close to not supporting this tax bill,” said Councilman Anthony Chiappone. “I wanted to pass a resolution not to pay the county. The state is making cuts. The city of Bayonne is making cuts. Why isn’t the county making cuts?”
But Malloy said the matter could result in a legal battle, and that the city would lose in the end.
Councilman Ted Connolly said fighting a losing battle will not help the taxpayers.
“I tend to go along with Terrence on this one,” he said. “While I have no problem standing up against the county, I think this will cost us a lot in legal fees. I do not want the city to get into another lawsuit. We already have issues with the U.S. Army and with the Port Authority. We will take a stand when we can win the fight.”
Connolly also said that the city needs to send the tax bills out, and cannot do that until it pays the county its share. The city must first pay the county and then collect the revenue from its taxpayers.
Councilman Gary La Pelusa said he would like to review what it might cost the city in legal bills if the council chose to take on the county over the increase.
Meanwhile the City Council is expected to consider a resolution at its July 16 meeting, raising protest over the increase in county taxes.
Saving money in next city budget
Malloy did have some good news for the city, saying that next year’s total town budget is expected to be $100,000 less than the current $130 million 2007-2008 budget. This is a result of cutting costs and freezing hiring over the last year.
The city cut the shuttle bus serving the Hudson Bergen Light Rail line and recreation’s tee-ball program, as well as cut backs in other department.
The city also made changes in its fees for a variety of programs, and Malloy said fees will be raised in other areas, including a parking tax for people using the parking facility for cruise ships sailing from Port Liberty.
The city’s early efforts to cut spending are an encouraging sign, Chiappone said, since he and LaPelusa have been struggling to get these cuts earlier in the budgeting cycle in order that they may have the most impact. He said making cuts at the end of a budget isn’t effective. But at the beginning of the year, the cuts can have a large impact on the budget.
Struggling with a budget gap
The city has faced large budget gaps over the last few years. In the past, the city has used a variety of one-shot revenue items such as the sale of land and a lease/purchase agreement for the Central Garage to fill the gap. Chiappone and most recently, LaPelusa, have pushed for cutting spending, a philosophy Malloy seems to have adopted.
“Mayor Malloy is doing what is necessary to bring the budget into line,” Chiappone said. “I commend him for it.”
The City Council was expected to approve at its July 16 meeting the school budget for this year.
While taxpayers have to pay more because of school debt this year, the $57 million operating budget will show no increase in taxes.
Budget increases were offset by an additional $8 million in state aid.
Chiappone, a member of the Board of School Estimate, which reviews and makes cuts to the school budget, said he is pushing for the schools to pick up some of the costs for programs the city currently pays for, such as the Cops in Schools program.
He said he is also concerned about the impact of new students into the school district that have been displaced by the closing of three Catholic grammar schools.
“We will know what the enrollment is at our August meeting,” Chiappone said.