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South Brunswick BOE Considering 5-Cent Tax Rate Increase

The other option would hold the tax rate at its current level by cutting nearly 40 staff members.

The South Brunswick Board of Education is discussing a spending plan that would increase the school tax rate by about 1.7 percent, but maintain staffing at current levels.

The proposed 4.9-cent increase would result in a 2012 tax rate of about $2.85 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a township home with an assessed value of $190,000 would see their school taxes go up by about $100 if the board approves the spending plan.

During last night's meeting, preliminary discussions began for the public with two options presented for next year's school budget: A tax-rate increase without any staff cuts, or keeping the tax rate at its current level, which would require cutting over 30 staff members.

As has been the trend throughout the state, the loss of tax ratables continues to have a significant impact on the school budget. South Brunswick experienced another decline in ratables of about $5.4 million (2.3 percent) last year, according to Business Administrator Anthony Tonzini.

"Before we even began the (budget process), we were looking at a deficit of $5.4 million, or a 7-cent tax increase," Tonzini said during last night's meeting. 

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

"Every time somebody gets their assessment reduced, think of that as a swimming pool with a leak," said Superintendent Gary McCartney. "Five of the last seven years, we sprung a leak."

Dr. McCartney noted during that time frame, the district asked for a tax increase only during years when ratables declined.

"The last time we didn't have a decrease in ratables, we didn't ask for a (school) tax increase," Dr. McCartney said. "In 2009-10, we had no loss of ratables and we had no tax increase. So if we didn't have a ratable decline this year then we wouldn't have a tax increase. We're asking for no more than what we lost."

The other option the board is considering would be to hold the tax rate firm at about $2.80 per $100 of assessed valuation by cutting $2.7 million, or about one-half of the money lost due to the ratable decrease.

This option would require eliminating 38.5 full time equivalent positions. The district has cut 212.7 full time equivalent employees since 2005-06. Teacher-student ratios for grades K-1 have increased to 1:23, for grades 2-5 increased to 1:25 and for grades 6-12 increased to 1:28.

Last year, voters approved a $95 million general fund levy that carried a 12.2-cent tax rate increase. A township home with an assessed value of $200,000 saw an increase of about $244 in school taxes and a home assessed at $300,000 saw an increase of about $366. The budget maintained the tax levy at the same level for the third consecutive year in South Brunswick.

Over the last six years, the school tax levy has increased by about $300,000.

"The only answer to a ratable decline is some sort of fix," McCartney said. "When you lose ratables, you increase the tax rate to regain the lost ratables. We're only asking for an increase to get the levy back to what it was."

The district 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. 

South Brunswick has a per pupil cost that's $2,035 below the state average, which qualified the district for the increased aid, according to McCartney. The district also saved about $1.5 million for next year through bond refinancing.

"That's called being prudent fiscally," McCartney added.

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.

Moving the election eliminates a budget vote entirely for spending that falls within the 2 percent tax cap. Only if the district presents a budget that goes above the 2 percent cap would it be required to put the budget before voters. 

Under the 2 percent cap, the board could've raised the tax rate to about $2.87 per $100 of assessed valuation. 

The Board of Education will hold a public hearing on the school budget at its next meeting on March 26.

What are your thoughts on the budget? Should the board maintain the tax rate and cut staff or should they increase the tax rate? Tell us in the comments.

Lisa Rodgers March 13, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Let's see the ratables are dropping, (when less companies stay and/or zoning changes from "OR" to "Residential” and everyone has their homes reassessed ), the Governor will not provide State aid which is due to every district in the State(See http://southbrunswick.patch.com/articles/save-our-schools-rallies-against-underfunding-of-public-education), teacher to student ratio increasing, school programs being cut, parents being asked to pay for programs, field trips, etc., and charter schools pulling from the school budget. The Governor wants to give EVERYONE a 10% tax cut, which will save my family oh, I guess $10 a month, but those individuals pulling in $1 million a year, will get, well, you do the math! Residents want to cut more school staff – there is an intelligent answer – let the kids deal with it, so in the future they WON”T be able to do the math! If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!
Just me March 13, 2012 at 01:54 PM
What's also interesting is we go from 0 cuts to 38.5 people. Isn't there anything in between?
Lisa Rodgers March 13, 2012 at 01:57 PM
You want to know what you can do? Continue to speak out: SB is due over $28M from the State for the past 3 years, PLUS $10M in ‘12-‘13 budget. Call the Governor's office, Assemblypersons and Senators tell them to fully fund public education and give us our money! If we were fully funded, property taxes would either stay flat, or go down. Imagine a real reduction in LOCAL property taxes, if the State would give us what we are legal due. Speak out at Zoning Board meetings – we need to keep “OR” zoned areas and bring in more businesses. Rather than eliminating the Pfizer facility on Ridge in order to build more homes, or 12 Perrine to convert to a Charter School, turning both current facilities/areas residential; allow new business to move in, to help create new jobs and help out the tax base. Call SB Township -we need to consolidate services with other towns. Push for local control on Charter’s. SB has $1.6M as a line item in the school budget every year IN CASE two charters open, which based on the current law, could be forever. There is no limit as to how many times a charter can TRY to open. If this wasn’t on the books, the deficit could be reduced. If we don’t start to change the course now, we are heading directly into the storm.
Truthteller March 13, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Eleanor you have a point with the Health Department the service is offered by the county. You have no point with traffic enforcement the amount of revenue you are talking about tickets could not put a dent in. If the average ticket was $200 and they issued 10K tickets you would get to $2M. That is not even half of the ratable drop and by the way to issue those tickets you will be paying an officer and if you get have to issue 10K you will either be paying ot or hiring new officers. If the police department issued that many tickets we would all be riding bikes.. Finally, the budget as described provides the outside parameters that is how people who understand budgets present them. From there it is decision making that is why there is a public hearing so you can come and have your concerns addressed. With the new law the Board could have asked for a 2% increase above the current years expenses the question is how much did they ask for? Also had they asked for the 2% increase how much would the tax increase have been? I think those figures are important to the discussion.
Winston March 13, 2012 at 03:05 PM
The SB BOE is guilty of gross incompetence and/or gross mismanagement. In the hardest economic times in recent history they want to torture tax payers struggling to pay their bills and take care of their families. Enough of the nonsense of blaming the state etc...etc...live within our means. If it means sacrifice and layoffs so be it!
Just me March 13, 2012 at 03:56 PM
$2M is $2M. We moved the BOE elections to November to save 36K!
Marty Abschutz March 13, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Eleanor, I'm sure there is something in between. I did not attend last night's Board meeting, but expect that the two ends of the spectrum were presented for discussion purposes.
I am RIGHT March 13, 2012 at 04:36 PM
W/SFK is in favor of the State keeping our money. That's very generous of him. I prefer they give us the money we're due and they allow the voters to decide about the need for Charters.
Winston March 13, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Oh please..the union talking points posters and teachers special interest dupes are already spewing their lies and misinformation.....
Truthteller March 13, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Eleanor you may have a point about the safety in the area where you are walking but it is unreasonable to expect an increase in traffic fines to result in millions of dollars. one of the big savings in Edison is that they are expanding their program for students with special needs and they will have fewer out of district placements. SB did this years ago and the taxpayer has benefited from savings related to this each year since. In addition, SB saved over $1m from a bond refinance. It is not like the BOE did nothing to offset the decrease in the tax levy. If you just took the decrease and added to it the 2% increase allowed the increase would be more than 10 cents. We all wish it were zero but the increases in expenses are not zero. Health insurance premiums increase, the out of district placement cost increase, cost of textbooks increase etc.
I am RIGHT March 13, 2012 at 07:39 PM
W/SFK complains Rush Holt doesn't bring money back to NJ, but he's happy when SB doesn't get our money back from the State. I want the money the State is owed by the Feds and I want the money SB is owed by the State. W/SFK only wants the money if a Democrat is in office. hmmmmm?????????
Winston March 13, 2012 at 08:01 PM
I Am Right.....your post was so coherent and rational.......NOT!
Just me March 13, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Where is the savings realized from the public employees now contributing toward their healthcare, just like the rest of the country is doing, by the way? And every little bit helps. 36K here, increased traffic fine revenues, shared services. How much does the health department cost us and how much would we save by eliminating it and using the county health department? How about the fact that we have our own legal department? What does that cost versus using the services of a legal firm as needed? And yes, not to mention the safety of our roads due to lack of enforcement of the posted speed limits, etc. They seem to be more "suggested" speed limits.
Truthteller March 13, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Elanor excellent point about health care contributions. I believe it is something you should ask at the budget meeting. From what I know each district is different with the phase in of these requirements depending on when their contracts end. In addition that savings is important but will not completly end health care increases. If your employee is required to cover 30 percent of their health care costs and the increase in health cate is 10 percent. The district is still absorbing a 10 percent increase on 70 percent of the cost of the increase. You are making relevant points the question is how many of them have the BOE considered. Go to the budget meeting ask your questions and get answers.
Truthteller March 13, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Eleanor the health department and legal department have nothing to do with the BOE nor does increased revenue from fines those items effect thetownship budget. Those questions are for town council at their meetings.
Just me March 13, 2012 at 09:37 PM
You're correct. They are conveniently reported on separately so the true tax burden doesn't seem as large. Last week we were talking about the municipal budget and how much more they needed. This week it's the schools needing more. Guess what.... It all comes from the same place! The taxpayers. And when you add it all up, the increases aren't so little.
raymond Weis March 13, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Every business and emergency organization in the state is forced to do more with less except it seems the schools. By schools I mean teachers and administrators. They still feel they are due large pay raises even if it means that the tax payers in the town have to go on a baloney sandwich diet to try to keep their homes. We're all feeling a squeeze from a bad economy but the teachers union seems to think the rest of the citizens should take a bigger hit to keep them afloat. I'd love to see our teachers be the highest paid in the country but not at the expense of having my bolagna sandwichs without the bolagna.
Joe R March 13, 2012 at 11:47 PM
Doing more with less, that is exactly what has been going on with the schools. Teachers ARE paying more toward their pensions and health care, some of that even started under Corzine. Read what LMR posted above. Our beloved governator has made massive grievous cuts to education while proposing a 10% tax cut mainly benefiting the rich. Geez, does anyone pay attention to facts. People are falling for all the Christie bombast. How about the millionaires' tax? Oh sorrry, we must be nice and gentle to the millionaires and billionaires in NJ, shared sacrifice only applies to teachers, police and firefighters.
Truthteller March 14, 2012 at 03:19 AM
Joe R I agree with you on several of these issues. Teachers are paying more toward their healthcare but not to their pensions. This did not occur under Corzine that is wrong. LMR has posted the info correctly Had they funded the formula fully it woulsd result in a significant property tax cut for everyone in SB. There is no need for a millionaires tax in fact NJ already has one it was put in many years ago. If Christie did not want to fund the formula the next best option was property tax relief not income tax cuts.
Barbara McWilliams March 14, 2012 at 05:02 AM
To answer your above question, as mentioned in the Patch's article, the Board presented a proposal to increase the budget 1.7% with no changes in staffing levels or a second proposal to keep the current spending level with staff cuts at approximately 38 positions.
Crazy World March 14, 2012 at 05:05 AM
Eleanor, You are correct in saying about the true tax burden we South Brunswick residents are subjected to. With BOE increases (2/3 of our tax bill), municipal tax (1/3), not to mention our quarterly sewer bill is outrageous. Have you looked at lately? Our sewer bill is over $500 dollars a year compared to other towns. Relatives of mine in Edison pay $55 a year and another in East Brunswick is much lower than us. What ever happened to the 1/2 cent sales tax increase that was to go to offset property taxes? When's it ever gonna stop!
Barbara McWilliams March 14, 2012 at 05:13 AM
Not sure yet if I am for or against the millionaires tax, but the legislature had several months to pass it before Christie even became governor.
I am RIGHT March 14, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Vote is surprising. Never would have guessed 3:1 in favor of raising taxes. Can this be right?
Just me March 14, 2012 at 02:04 PM
I was watching that yesterday. Somebody with nothing better to do than keep on clicking in favor of the tax increase. Lots more people voting than commenting.
Truthteller March 14, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Not a scientific poll don't get carried away. Although I think the Council and BOE have done a fair job and support the budgets. I hope some people come up with potential savings like Eleanor did with the health department issue. Perhaps there could be an even lower tax increase. I think Eleanor should start the eliminate the health department movement get a petition going and have folks attend the council meeting.
Let's Think March 15, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Seems it would be helpful if people stayed with the facts. The facts are that we have a wonderful school district. The fact is that we have more children every year taking AP classes, which saves families when there children are headed towards college. The fact is that our teachers have never been the highest paid teachers in the state or even the county, in fact is one of the lowest paid staff in the area. The fact is our district consistently highlighted for excellence. The fact is also... excellence costs money.
Jack Wagon March 15, 2012 at 02:39 AM
Agree! I thought I might have read it wrong before I voted.
Jack Wagon March 15, 2012 at 11:45 AM
I would argue the fact that the rising Asian demographic in SB every year is boosting the overall academic excellence annually and most of the Asian students are on cruise control at the HS. The fact is, the Asian population gets their rigorous academic training outside of the HS and the HS teachers, who in my opinion are getting paid very fairly for their positions and the privilege to work with such a great community of students and parents, are merely proctoring most of the well trained Asian population at the HS. I, for one, would be up in arms if SB teachers were even close to the highest paid in the state or country for obvious reasons. Excellence doesn't cost money, tutoring, which leads to excellence, costs money. Charging families money for AP classes, sports, clubs, and other extra curricular activities (pay to play, but have no say) is only one of the Board's solutions to offset spending.
Jack Wagon March 15, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Joe R, be nice to all those millionaires or they'll take their chips and leave this forsaken state. Then who will you get to pay for the budget? If that happens, then you'll be complaining about Christie not being able to generate jobs and money. The real fact is, the rich pay their fair share already, actually about 10% more than their fair share, hence the proposed cut. Most of those crying about the rich are living well beyond their means because of their false sense of liberal entitlement that they seem to have. They want the rich to foot the bill. Socialism at it's best. It's the rich who provide jobs and money in this country, not police, firefighters, and teachers, and it's the rich that make it possible to even maintain our current spending problems or budgets. Unions needed to get put in their place during this economic crisis and Christie had the guts to do it. Kudos to him!
Marty Abschutz March 19, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Just me, The school district proposal requests fewer total dollars than they asked for in the current year. The ratables going down are the cause of the proposed rate increase.

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