The council approved the township’s $76.5 million 2011 municipal budget Wednesday night. The tax levy will be $56.7 million, a $2.3 million increase from last year’s amount.
The nine-member council voted 5-4 in favor of the budget. Councilwoman Lonni Miller Ryan and Councilmen Al Sadowski, Joseph Scuralli, and Joseph Schweighardt voted against adopting the budget.
The average homeowners taxes will increase $89 this year. The average home in Wayne is valued at $230,000.
“Taxes are extremely high and people are struggling to pay their taxes,” Ryan said. “I feel we could have taken more out.”
Nine full-time positions, including four police officers, were eliminated from the budget, a savings of more than $733,000 in salaries. The township will payout approximately $28.8 million in salaries, down from last year’s $29.3 million.
The amount of recreation revenues also went down from $840,000 last year to $831,000 this year but the surplus remained the same: $65,000.
The township’s pension payment increased $843,000.
The township’s insurance costs increased from $9.2 million in 2010 to more than $10.9 million for 2011.
Councilwoman Nadine Bello said that township officials did not “take the budget lightly.” She said the council, and the administration, worked hard to save as much money as possible.
“Pension payments and insurance premiums are out of our control. We are obligated to pay that money,” Bello said. “We nickel and dimed this budget to death.”
Schweighardt has voted against every budget since being elected to the council.
“I have difficulty with the process. It's July. The dollar of this budget we spent on Jan. 1,” Schweighardt said. “Most of the negatives are driven by the state. It keeps putting off when you find out how much state aid you will receive and, while that amount is never really a lot, if you move ahead with your budget, it precludes you from receiving any state aid.”
The township is also dealing with $41 million in lost tax ratables through appeals form last year to this year.
Sadowski said that businesses are often overlooked with regards to tax increases. He said “people have had enough when it comes to tax increases.”
“When somebody goes into a barber shop and it is $2 more for a haircut because the rent went up and the rent went up because taxes went up it's upsetting,” Sadowski said. “We need the businesses here because that offsets the residents having to pay taxes.”
When the budget was introduced March 16, Sadowski said, officials should have examined budgets from municipalities that are of a similar size and population. Parsippany, Bridgewater Old Bridge and Paramus were some of the towns he named.
“Maybe they are doing something better than us. Maybe we’re fine. But if Paramus was able to find a reduction in taxes, ask why,” Sadowski said. “If Parsippany’s budget is $14 million less than ours and they have almost the exact same population, that’s a lot of money.”
Bello said there are other factors, flooding for instance, that may have gone into Wayne’s budget that would differentiate it from the budgets other municipalities of similar size and population. It’s not necessarily a simple apples-to-apples comparison.
“At the end of the day we all have the same budget items and our apple maybe shinier than other town’s apples but why not look,” Sadowski asked.
Scuralli said that government must work to stop the “growth of taxes.”
“I think that residents can’t afford another tax increase,” Scuralli said. “I don’t think people can afford to pay what they pay already. If you’re a business owner and you’re putting together a budget, it starts with the sales budget and how much you can bring in and then you figure out what your expenses are. That’s how it should be done.”