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South Brunswick BOE Adopts Budget With 5-cent Tax Rate Increase

Budget reduces overall tax levy, but tax rate increases due to drop in township ratables.

The down economy will continue to affect the tax bills of residents after the South Brunswick Board of Education adopted a $138 million spending plan at last night's meeting. The budget, which increased by 1.15 percent over last year, lowers the general fund tax levy by about $630,000 to $96.2 million, but the tax rate will increase by about 5-cents to $2.85 per $100 of assessed valuation. 

The owner of a township home with an assessed value of $200,000 will see their school taxes go up by about $100, while the owner of a home assessed at $300,000 will see an increase of about $148 in school taxes next year.

"We're asking for a small increase in operating expenses. When you look at the cost of gas, we know we needed a small increase in the operating budget, but when you put that on top of the ratable loss it looks like a big increase," said Board of Education President Stephen Parker. "We refinanced bonds and refinanced our debt and put that into the increase, which actually brought down the total tax levy. Not enough to make up for the full ratable loss, but enough to cut into it."

South Brunswick experienced another decline in ratables of about $5.4 million (2.3 percent) last year, which amounted to a 7-cent tax increase, according to Business Administrator Anthony Tonzini.

. Over the last seven years, South Brunswick's ratable base has decreased by $180 million. That drop in value has a greater impact on the school tax rate than any other factor, according to township officials.

By refinancing bond issues from 1997 and 2002, the district was able to save about $8 million. Through other cost containment and shared services initiatives, the district has saved about $18 million since 2007, Tonzini said.

The budget for next year will preserve the district’s current programming and staffing levels. South Brunswick has cut 212.7 full time equivalent employees since 2005-06. Included in those cuts were 33.5 administrators and 55 teachers. There may, however, be some slight cuts to staffing levels for kindergarten as enrollment is down this year, according to Assistant Superintendent Joanne Kerekes.

As part of the budget, teacher-student ratios for grades K-1 are maintained at 1:23, for grades 2-5 are maintained at 1:25 and for grades 6-12 are maintained at 1:28.

The budget continues the pay to participate policy for sports, music and clubs. Fees for Advanced Placement classes will be reexamined at the end of the school year, as Superintendent Gary McCartney said the $75 fee could possibly be lowered based on actual expenses.

The district took in about $400,000 from pay to participate fees to help cover the $1.6 million cost of running the various programs.

South Brunswick received $20.1 million in state aid last year, which represented an increase of $1.26 million, but is still short of the $6.3 million in aid that was cut in 2010-11.

The district lost about $1.6 million from state aid for students the state projects to attend charter schools. Even with the , the district must continue to budget for those students. PIACS has a June deadline to obtain a certificate of occupancy or will need to apply for another planning year extension from the Department of Education.

"We can't say we can lower taxes since we won't be using that ($1.6 million)," Dr. McCartney said. "We don't know that we won't be needing it (for charter schools), so if we ever used it to lower taxes, we may have to re-tax for it later. We believe it makes more sense to carry it forward."

South Brunswick has a per pupil cost ($11,552) that's $2,035 below the state average, which qualified the district for the increased aid, according to Tonzini.

During the public portion of the meeting, a South Brunswick resident noted that the district is spending about $7 million below what the state feels it should be spending.

The budget includes capital improvement projects for roof replacement at Crossroads South Middle School and Indian Fields Elementary School, as well as new windows at Dayton and Deans. The expense was offset by the district's Capital Reserve funds.

Tonzini pointed to the equalized tax rate among municipalities in Middlesex County, which reflects the true market values of properties in those townships. In terms of the tax rate for the schools, municipalities and county, South Brunswick rates as the 22nd lowest out of 25 municipalities in Middlesex County.

"What that means is, if you live in South Brunswick, if you could pick your house up and take it any place in Middlesex County that you wanted, there are only three places you could take your house and pay less taxes," McCartney said. "There are 21 places you could take your house where you would pay higher taxes. We have produced the results that we've produced and remained one of the least expensive, if you can use that term with taxes in New Jersey, one of the least expensive places in the entire county to live."

Three members of the public spoke during the meeting's public portion, with no comments offered in objection to the spending plan.

Unlike previous years, residents will not get to vote on the school budget next month. . Officials estimated the move could save the district $36,000 on the cost of running the April election.

Editor's Note: A quote was incorrectly attributed to South Brunswick Superintendent Gary McCartney during last night's meeting. The quote "What that means is that we're spending about $7 million below what the state says we should be spending" was said by a member of the public, not Dr. McCartney. 

What are your thoughts on the budget? If you could vote on this budget as in previous years, would you support it? and share your thoughts in the comments.

Marty Abschutz March 28, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Just me, Still don't understand how you see Board of Ed members "... have taken very good care of themselves .." It's not "all the same." A few years ago, the Board reduced expenses by more than $8 million, i.e., more than 5.5%. Taxes have been cut several times during the past 20 years, including for next year. The Board is seeking $600,000 less than it did for the current year. That's a tax cut. That's also not "... spending as much as possible and passing the cost along." Gov Christie would have allowed the District to spend (and tax) an additional $2.6 million. They didn't. The Board is only requesting what it thinks SB needs to spend to provide a thorough and efficient education that the law mandates. You may not know that Gov Christie calculates that South Brunswick School District is spending $7 million LESS than he thinks a financially well run district should be spending. That fiscal prudence enabled the District to be promised almost $2 million more in State aid, if the Governor's budget passes the legislature. That almost $2 million helped to partially offset the large ratable decline.
Marty Abschutz March 28, 2012 at 02:45 AM
One of the ongoing problems, in my opinion, is the fact that property values have not been reassessed in South Brunswick for many years. That has lead to the current environment where property owners successfully appeal their assessed value, pushing more of the tax burden onto property owners who don't appeal and lessening their own burden regardless of any increase in tax rates.
Marty Abschutz March 28, 2012 at 02:51 AM
Just me, A hefty part of that $6 million was money the Board had saved for capital projects. Another hefty part of the $6 million would have been used to offset potential tax increases in the following year. That following year was the year the Board reduced expenses by about $8 million laying off more than 100 people in the process.
Truthteller March 28, 2012 at 02:52 AM
No jest and not Franks water boy either he can defend himself, Review my posts and see for yourself my fiscal leanings are conserative but I also recognize when there are things that have been managed properly. Give me a few specifics of what should be done or what was done wrong with BOE budgets, I believe they have been managed well under Marty's tenure. . Also tell me what needs to go from the municipal budget? Be specific support your suggestions. Even if it will not get done provide your game plan put it up for review and criticism. Let's see what you have to offer.
Truthteller March 28, 2012 at 03:09 AM
Just Me a property tax rebate would be a check from the state to you not back the municipalities. You are saying you support the average person making 500K or less to get back $250 verses the same people to get $500 to $700. I feel differently but you are entitled to your opinion. I think Marty explained the $6M but to emphasize the point there are 11 school buildings with boilers, roofs etc $6M is not an unreasonable amount of money to set aside for capitial projects.
Crazy World March 28, 2012 at 05:06 AM
Hey Just Me, I'm with you. I have seen my taxes double in the past 16 years. Being on a fixed income/semi-retirement, I haven't seen any increases in my income. Yet, every year the taxes go up. How many private businesses in South Brunswick spend $138 million dollars a year? The N.Y. Mets baseball team has a lower payroll. The school system is way too big and we simply cannot afford to keep paying for redundant supervisors and administrators. If the state cannot and will not pay what's owed to the township, don't look to residents to make up for the shortfall. If this keeps up, I may soon be joining you out of state.
Barry Nathanson March 28, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Actually the last time the budget went down, the council cut a 1 million dollars from the budget.
Just me March 28, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Middle of the Road... the average person making 500K? You call that average? I have yet to see my property taxes decrease year over year. You can twist your words and spin your little yarns but the fact of the matter is, our taxes have gone up every year! And your cronies on the township council support your heroic efforts in putting together these ridiculous budgets year over year! That's because that's exactly the way they do it. Birds of a feather and all that happy stuff! You all use the same smoke and mirrors to try to trick the average taxpayer and so far you've done a terrific job! We've cut staff yet total salary expense goes up every year! In the real world, if a company's profits are down or other unexpected expenses hit, people don't get raises. And true leaders, while crying poverty, do not put more money in their own pockets! Sorry if you feel you're different than the rest of the crooks bleeding the taxpayers of South Brunswick dry. You're all the same to me! Over 12K in property taxes. People outside the township practically choke when they hear what we pay for our modest home on less than 1/4 of an acre!
Marty Abschutz March 28, 2012 at 02:55 PM
This page is about the Board of Education adopting its 2012 - 2013 budget. You have not been paying attention if you say that the school portion of your tax bill has not gone down once in 20 years. Secondly, it's nice to have a modest home assessed at more than $300,000, when the township average is under $190,000. (This might be an artifact of the township not being reassessed in forever - see one of my other posts). You are mistaken about salary expense going up every year. As I've stated before, The Board of Education members are unpaid volunteers, so your accusation of "... money in their own pockets" is a baldfaced lie.
Marty Abschutz March 28, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Jack, (This is all off-topic of the article.) In a free market economy, speculators bidding up the price of future oil contracts is beyond the ability of anyone to control. U.S. oil production is the highest it has been in many years. U.S. consumption is the lowest it has been in many years (mostly due to the economy). The percentage of foreign oil we are using is the lowest it has been in many years. One of the issues with Keystone was that there was failure to agree that the oil from Keystone would remain in the U.S. (I'm not saying that's the only issue, but I think it is a big one.)
Just me March 28, 2012 at 03:03 PM
The house is assessed at 265K. Perhaps the BOE members are not compensated with salary but salary expense township wide is up every year. Show me some facts, Marty, where it was otherwise. Show me some years where salary expense has gone down. And your cronies in their municipal budget have proposed a 7% increase for themselves and the finance department. Overall municipal salaries up close to 4% and they are crying about being broke!
Marty Abschutz March 28, 2012 at 03:12 PM
The Board is not responsible for township wide salaries. If you look at the year that the Board reduced expenses by $8 million, District salary expense went down. For the record, I don't have cronies who affect the municipal budget. Can we agree that their should be a township wide property value reassessment? That would provide a stable ratable base so that tax rates don't increase just to replace the ratable loss. Your thoughts?
raymond Weis March 28, 2012 at 04:31 PM
I'm glad to see that the school budget has generated so much response as it is the single largest portion of our property tax. I would feel a lot better about the school board if I could be assured that none of the members had any connection to the education system other than the board. I can't help but wonder how many of the board members are teachers or administrators in other school districts or have close family members in such positions as it would surely look at least to me as they have at least loose ties to the NJEA and would beg to question their total objectivity.
Joe R March 28, 2012 at 06:22 PM
It just never ceases to amaze me how so many people invoke the name of the dreaded, the evil NJEA which, as we all know, is all powerful, all knowing and controls the minds and souls of everyone for all eternity. So Ray wants to make it a rule that teachers and NJEA members be banned from running for schoolboard positions? It seems he even wants to ban people who have close family members who are teachers or (horrors of horrors) NJEA members! When exactly did it become a crime or a felony to belong to the NJEA? I know many people hate unions and would love to have the methodology for dealing with unions that is occuring in Colombia or Honduras. One of the first things that happened in such dictatorships as Cuba or Pinochet's Chile was the banning of unions. For pity's sake, the school boards are totally separate from the unions. They are not exactly bosom buddies. Do some people not realize this?
Truthteller March 28, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Who is talking about township budget? Also thanks for the comment that the person making $500K a year is not avg it is the point of a property tax rebate as opposed to an income tax cut. If you are at $500K or less you will receive very little relief from an income tax cut but the same folks would benefit so much more from a property tax rebate.
Truthteller March 28, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Fair question Ray and one you should ask the BOE. Also Joe R I do not see Ray as demonizing the NJEA here I think his concern is more along the lines of is there a conflict of interest. It is an interesting point because where do you draw the line. If you do not allow these people to serve are you infringing on their rights and if you allow them to serve are you creating a potential conflict of interest. Not sure where I stand on that would have to here arguments for and against it before coming to a conclusion.
raymond Weis March 28, 2012 at 08:52 PM
I would not ban anybody from running for the school board. I am saying that I would question my own objectivity if I was negotiating a contract that affected my spouse or close family member. Also I find it hard to have somebody accuse me of being anti-union when I was a life long teamster. Even a judge is supposed to recuse himself if a case affects his family in any way.
Jack Wagon March 29, 2012 at 12:20 AM
I think Ray has a good point. Didn't Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas just recuse himself from a supreme court decision because his wife has a vested interest in one of the litigants. Joe R - Who said it was a crime or felony? I would never vote for a potential board member who has a vested interest in the school budget other than being a taxpayer in this town. Especially when my only recourse left is to vote for BOE members. Are we to believe that school board members that have vested interests are so impartial as to not vote to protect their interests? People are human. They'll protect their interests and there is nothing illegal about it. I just heard Patel on the Zoning Board express his personal feelings about PIACS that has absolutely nothing to do with zoning. He should resign his post as far as I'm concerned. He has a personal interest in PIACS and that's why he voted in favor of it.
Joe R March 29, 2012 at 12:33 AM
Sorry, I apologize, I meant no disrespect to Ray who is a very civil commenter and a volunteer to the community. But any board member has his own background and priorities whether it is a business member, a stay at home mom, a PHD in physics or a school principal. I personally knew of a principal who was employed in one school district but was a board member in a different district where he was a resident. He definitely had an anti-union point of view and more or less felt that teachers should obey their principals without question. It's not a perfect system and whoever is a board member comes to the table with his own prejudices, biases, philosophies or points of view. I do think that most board members realize that they are advocates for the district and the kids first. Or at least, I hope so.
Joe R March 29, 2012 at 12:45 AM
I don't believe that Justice Thomas has ever recused himself. There are demands by many groups that he SHOULD recuse himself from the health care debate because of his wife's activities but he is not budging. Off topic: Dear Patch, please stop with the horizontal read more pop ins. Just more clutter on the screen that has to be clicked away.
Jack Wagon March 29, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Marty. I know it's off topic, but I pulled the quote from a BOE member and couldn't resist. We both are saying the same things but either giving the credit or blame based on our respective political biases.
Truthteller March 29, 2012 at 02:51 AM
I think there are rules from the state that require BOE members to recuse themselves in certain situations. Thiese are not options it is defined they must recuse themselves.
Anonymous58 March 29, 2012 at 10:04 AM
Are you people all still in Junior High School?
Jack Wagon March 29, 2012 at 11:01 AM
Dear Anonymous58 - Do you like me? Yes_________ No_________
Jack Wagon March 29, 2012 at 11:21 AM
Anonymous58 - Are your insults because you are unhappy with your lot in life up until this point? Take a good, long hard look in a full length mirror for about 30 seconds. If you see that middle aged, unattractive, out of shape, uneducated dolt, who's living paycheck to paycheck, and needs a serious teeth cleaning, make a change. You'll feel better about yourself and others around you. Then, and only then, can you start being a productive member of society. This is a blog. This is what people write on blogs. All topical comments should be welcomed, including those from people with a junior high school mentality and regrettably, even those who feel the need to insult or intimidate others.
Marty Abschutz March 29, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Middle, There are definite rules on conflict of interest, especially as it relates to negotiating a contract with a bargaining unit. When I was on the Board, we consulted authorities a few times regarding this issue. Any affected Board members always abided by the rules.
7 out March 25, 2013 at 07:28 PM
If the state won't pay its share and you don't want to pay, then we should expect cops, teachers and other town employees to work for free?
Drediock May 03, 2013 at 02:08 PM
How about this. Instead of raising taxes. How about the township gets rid of some of the dead wood it has on its payroll. Examples of what I see daily. Workers hanging out in convenience stores during non break times Sending 4 men to do the work of 1 Example of this. I personally witnessed this from a house across the street I was at at the time. A while back there was a "no parking here to corner" sign over by Sondek park thats pole was slightly bent. Two township trucks. and the large ones at that showed up containing 4 workers. They got out, looked at the sign then stood there staring at it talking for 1/2 hour. finally one of them got into a truck and slowly backed up into it and straightened it out. something I could have done in less then 5 minutes by myself. Then he parked the truck, got out and they all stood there staring at it admiring their work for another 1/2 hour. What I saw was a waste of gas, a waste of manpower, and a waste of time. All which costs me money inasmuch as its my tax money the goes to pay them. Continued...
Drediock May 03, 2013 at 02:09 PM
From continued Now if Im paying for someone to do work for me. I expect not have my supervisors send 4 people to a job to do the work of 1. and not have 3 standing around talking while 1 works which is something I see all too often. And if I'm paying 4 people. I expect all 4 to to you know...actually work. I don't know about anyone else. But I'm kinda funny that way. Now if there isn't enough to do that we can have 1 person work while 4 stand around. We obviously don't need 3 of them. Either get rid of them or make them part time. And if we have foremen/supervisors.Dept heads that allow this sort of thing. Then maybe we need to look at cutting some of that dead wood too. Half these guys I've seen wouldnt last a week in the real world
Marty Abschutz May 03, 2013 at 02:40 PM
You may consider reposting some of these comments on the page with the article about the current year's township budget.

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