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Tax Appeals Cost Town $43 Million in Ratables, School Officials Say

Officials outline challenges ahead in creating the district's budget for next school year.

Superintendent Ray Gonzalez / Patch file photo
Superintendent Ray Gonzalez / Patch file photo

The loss of $43 million in tax ratables, rising salaries, and unfunded state mandates are all factors working against district officials as they create a budget for the 2014-15 school year.

The Board of Education hosted a public meeting Thursday about the budget creation process and heard from residents about what they think should be done next year.

The township lost nearly $43.8 million in ratables due to tax appeals from 2013 to 2014, said Juanita Petty, business administrator. The town’s tax base went from $5.188 billion to $5.144 billion. The average Wayne home’s value decreased $600 in that same time to $228,200. The township provided Petty with those amounts.

Because the township operates on a calendar year from January to December and the school district on a fiscal year, from July to June, officials use a split year tax levy, the amount of the budget raised by local taxes, is used to determine the tax rate; half the levy is used with data from the second half of 2013 and the first half of 2014, Petty said.

Using this method and the $43.8 million loss of ratables means that school taxes for the average homeowner would increase $119 year over year.

The tax levy has steadily increased since the 2009-10 school year when it was $116.9 million to $130.4 million this year, an 11 percent increase.

Officials have begun to negotiate with the teachers’ union, the Wayne Education Association. Eighty percent of the district’s current $141.1 million budget, $113 million, pays for salaries and benefits. All negotiated contracts are “subject to increase” for the next school year, Superintendent Ray Gonzalez said.

Residents spoke out about the fact that the state continues to put pressure on local school boards to enact mandates like the state’s new anti-bullying policy but not provide the money to fund them.

“When are we going to say enough is enough with unfunded mandates?” one resident asked. “When have we had enough? When do we say: ‘you want us to do it, you give us the money’?”

Gonzalez said the numbers are continually being worked on and examined.

The district’s preliminary budget will be presented at a special meeting Feb. 13. The preliminary budget will be adopted Feb. 27. It will then be sent to the Passaic County Department of Education for approval. The Board is slated to adopt the final budget March 27.

Board President Laura Stiziano refused to answer questions after the meeting because “nothing has been finalized yet," she said.

— Have a question or news tip? Contact editor Daniel Hubbard at Daniel.Hubbard@patch.com or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Pad January 17, 2014 at 08:21 AM
113 million for salaries and benefits and climbing from a 141.2 million dollar budget? This clearly shows that cuts need to be made. Wayne is facing a tax crisis. People and business's are leaving at an alarming rate and the BOE continues on its path of spending more & more money. The WEA needs to make concessions just like everyone else in the real world has had to do. The BOE should be looking for $0 increase in the budget and make the needed cuts in the over staffed administrative positions. They have made bad decisions financially. Paid out the last two Super's, the bus move that will continue to cost more & more money every year, the 5 million dollar security plan, Spender Gonzalez's office renovation, the sound proof room etc. These people have to go. They have absolutely no regards for the taxpayers who are struggling in this Township. Everything they do is smoke & mirrors. Always saying things like this will be a $12 dollar increase or an increase 0f $119 dollars a year for the average taxpayer but the truth is most taxpayers end up paying a lot more. This is truly a group of self serving and selfish group of people. This will go on & on until the taxpayers stand up to these people and say "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH" and demand cuts in the budget. The loss of 43 million in ratables is no laughing matter. Wayne is becoming a sinking ship and the BOE is making the hole in the hull bigger & bigger!
Pad January 17, 2014 at 08:30 AM
Since 2009 there has been an increase in the budget of over 11 percent. The budget went from about 117 million to 141.1 million in just 4 years. That's an increase in spending of just under 25 million. This is what's destroying Wayne & its taxpayers. 113 million for salaries and benefits? The children don't get any of this toward their education just into the pockets of these high paid administrators and staff. Cuts and concessions need to be made until the tax crisis stabilizes. These same people who complain about the high taxes we pay just continue to spend and spend. They can't have it both ways. Everyone has made sacrifices but this small group of big spenders.
Wayne's World January 17, 2014 at 11:19 AM
I still wish there was more reporting done and less regurgitation of these meetings. Or at least a clarification of the presentations that are made. Based on $43 million in lost ratables, the school portion of the budget is reduced by just under $1.1 million. Certainly not chump change but also less than 1% of the overall expenditure of $143 million. The amount dedicated to salaries and benefits is utterly shocking. There MUST be a lot of waste in the system if that is the case. I would have expected a lot more than $30 million to be dedicated to the physical upkeep of the schools, supplies, etc. What this does is again illustrate that public employees' pensions and benefits far outweigh the private sector and are absolutely unsustainable at these levels. I bet if we really looked under the hood, the pension and benefits for police, teachers and other public employees are a great deal of the town's obligations. Until those items are tackled, there can be no meaningful reform, only reductions that ultimately harm students. Just talking to doctors and dentists that I know, the public employees always have the "Cadillac" health insurance plans, unlike the rest of us in private business. As it is, the teacher/student ratios in certain schools are already too high by at least 5 students per class. Forget the state mandates - just ignore them....what are they gonna do, stop contributing the measly $2 million to our school system? The way that Dan reports this, it seems that the focus of every BOE public meeting is to discuss the minimal impact of increases. Isn't there some kind of public advocate that can make them show exactly how many administrators there are, what their utility is, and account for their compensation? Every number I always see is listed as a lump sum for the whole system. Of course we need an auditor/comptroller to root out the waste, but I bet a simple chart will show some obvious areas of excess. Wonder if Gonzalez will bring that to the next meeting. Dan, can you make a public request for that kind of detail in advance of next meeting in February? Send a letter and post it on Patch? Create some public accountability for BOE?
KrisTee January 17, 2014 at 11:42 AM
Pad, you are so correct, our teachers are not seeing any of this increase in their paychecks. The students sure as hell are not seeing this due to the condition of the facilities and learning materials. I've found that the vendors the school systems use are making the money, it seems they look at the Wayne BOE as a open check book. I know everything is supposed to go out to competitive bidding but does it? and are these bids/contracts under public consideration? Someone has to find out where all this money is going. Take the budgets from the past years and see where the increases are. Every year we pay $120 more on average in BOE taxes. We should have the Taj Mahal of schools in Wayne, we should have the best teaching materials and CLEAN bathrooms with sanitary materials in them at the least but we don't. I don't think its all salaries, there is a hole where the money goes and it needs to be found.
eyes wide shut January 17, 2014 at 12:41 PM
It lost 43mill in tax appeals...How much is it ahead on those that are OVER CHARGED? Seems the appeals are ALL justified. Maybe MORE and MORE should appeal their taxes. Its only filling out a form and dropping it off and only cost 25 bucks..Whats to lose?
Pad January 17, 2014 at 03:14 PM
Lets face it at almost 143 million dollar a year school budget and parents are asked to donate school supplies for the children. Does this make any sense to anyone? The Wayne BOE is out of control with spending OUR money. Now they want to spend 5 million on security upgrades and put it to a vote so they could EXCEED the 2% STATE MANDATED CAP. This is all being done on recommendations of the school facilities supervisor and not a professional school security expert or firm. This looks like more of a job security project for certain people more then the security of students. Taxpayers need to demand cuts, freeze all increases and a halt to new programs until spending and tax increases in Wayne are brought under control. The BOE is destroying this town and driving out its business's and residents like never before. Why so many tax appeals? Because people can't afford to pay any more. They have been paying too much all these years and are now fighting back with tax appeals.
Wayne's World January 17, 2014 at 04:22 PM
There's no doubt you are on to something PAD. Even the description of the project is fishy. Bond the entire amount over 15 years, but receive the money now from the state and from taxpayers as part of the increased budget. I'll make you a deal - if you and JackQ run I will join you come next BOE election. Taxpayers demanding isn't enough - you need watchdog citizens controlling the BOE, not the other way around.
Flood Plain January 17, 2014 at 05:45 PM
Long past time for a complete Institutional Assesment. All positions with less than 67% of time spent in the classroom would be listed with their cost, support costs, and all benefits. ALL POITIONS
Pad January 17, 2014 at 05:50 PM
Well that's every school administrator they spend 0 hours in the classroom. They need to stay under the 2% CAP and do the security project a little each year. The BOE needs a full independent audit on all monies held in account and all spending. The amount of the budget is almost criminal. Something is going on at Nellis Drive and we are being kept in the dark.
Flood Plain January 17, 2014 at 05:51 PM
Above post continued........... WHOSE "VALUE ADDED" FAILS TO EXCEED IT'S total cost in wages, benefits, and support costs WOULD BE ELIMINATED AT THE END OF THIS FISCAL BUDGET YEAR. Until that above analysis is completed, the total operating budget expense for this current fiscal budget year will be frozen for all future budgets. My guess is that if the IA were to be properly conducted in pure public transparency, the budget for next year could be REDUCED by a minimum of 5% from the current outrageous level. And, of course, the tax rate for the school district could be REDUCED and taxes cut.
Pad January 17, 2014 at 05:56 PM
BTW, Does anyone know the status of the #2 person after her incident or has that also been swept under the rug. Is she still employed? Or did she quietly leave with cash in her pockets like the last two superintendents that they lied to us about. Spender Gonzalez is a shrewd operator having honed his skills in Paterson & Hackensack. After all Hackensack wouldn't take him for the big seat because of his demand to hire #2. But in Wayne they hired her. It was a package deal that's costing taxpayers dearly.
Al Scala January 17, 2014 at 06:36 PM
They know that revenues are going to be down. Frankly, they've know this for quite awhile. Surprisingly, it seems that they haven't curbed spending! They hired 9 new Assistant Principals, ( in conjunction with Common Core), leased a new bus depot, ( God knows what other expenses are related to this facility such as build out, tax escalation clauses, insurance, gas & electric, , additional personnel, etc.) We still have three AD's for 2 high schools. ( call them whatever you want, AD's, site-co-ordinators). The security upgrades will be voted on which I believe takes this expense out of the 2% cap. Where will they go with this? They need to cut expense where appropriate. Can our mandated programs be delivered more efficiently? What portion of our budget represents mandated costs! They've added a new breakfast program, which we are told at no cost! This costs us nothing? Have we added personnel to handle this or created a need for personnel to work additional hours! How about added utility costs associated with the preparation of the food? Is this all free? I doubt it! Same thing with the solar panels? All free? It's going to be an interesting budget process! Cap waiver coming?
Pad January 17, 2014 at 10:12 PM
There will be a vote on the Security BS spending in March. They hired a breakfast chef to oversee the breakfast program and a company that prepares the breakfast etc. Pretty soon will we have valet parking for the students at the high school? They are spending like drunken sailors in Wayne with no end in sight. Taxpayers in March vote this 5 million dollar expenditure down or you will be paying for years to come. 141 million a years school budget with 113 million for salary and benefits! Are they kidding me? Yes they will be over the 2% CAP. Why don't they cut expenditures and do this security upgrade over several years instead of bonding for it? Out of the 141+ million dollar budget only 28 million goes for education cost of the students. Oh yes, Spender Gonzalez got rid of department heads and replaced them with 9 higher paid Asst. Principles. So for example the head of the math department is a vice principle but he may not have any expertise in teaching math that makes a lot of sense. Maybe we should hire a bus driver to fly the space shuttle?
Pad January 17, 2014 at 10:30 PM
Oh and lets not forget all the money spent to try and buy the house at Wayne Hills. The homeowner made a fortune and also kept his house. Another example of breaking the law with an expenditure that wasn't handled the proper way. We as taxpayers should demand a full audit of all financial holdings and expenditures by the BOE. Believe me they are sitting on a gold mine but yet they are always increasing our taxes every year by constant spending & hiring.
Wayne Res January 18, 2014 at 08:50 AM
Why are people winning tax appeals? Home values keep declining? Why? People are moving out or becoming hesitant to move in to Wayne because of the unaffordable taxes which reduces home values. Instead of a steady 2% increase every year how about we find ways to decrease taxes. is this to novel of an idea? Durning the economic downturn companies were able to figure out how to do more with less and this was not by spending more and raising prices to consumers. The other side is that the town should conduct a townwide reassesment. This would level set all taxes based on the revenues rather than having to manage a $44m in reduced rateables.
joann ranalletti January 18, 2014 at 02:06 PM
Why is it that Ms. Stinziano refuse to answer questions by saying,"nothing has been finalized yet." Did not the BOE call for this meeting with the public for input? Should not the President of the BOE be able to answer questions asked of her regarding this very important situation? If you are the President I would think you would have some knowledge about a meeting you are chairing and have opened to the public. Hopefully Ms. Stinziano this is not going to be a pattern!
ALD26 January 18, 2014 at 02:18 PM
Very frustrating across the board. So much money have been spent on programs that are no longer used, but merely a resource, but no one asks these questions. The money certainly isn't lining teachers' pockets...most pay at least 400 out of pocket for supplies each summer. Where is it all going?
Pad January 18, 2014 at 03:07 PM
People are winning tax appeals because the value of their homes has declined. When that happens unless you appeal your taxes you keep paying on the old assessed value. That's why they are winning. A new reassessment would still lower tax revenue because the new assessments would be lower on almost every home. Since 2007 many homes have dropped 100 to 200 K less. Wayne will never stabilize taxes because the BOE and the Township just keep spending more and more, they give the WEA, PBA and other unions practically everything they ask for. Hell before the 2% CAP went into effect the BOE held an emergency meeting with the WEA, allowed them to cancel the remainder of the current contract and vote on a new one so they could exceed the 2% CAP and also their members wouldn't have to pay has much into their healthcare sharing cost. That's the collusion that goes on here!
Patricia Rivera March 25, 2014 at 08:08 AM
We need to continue to speak out against ever increasing taxes in this town, in this county and in this state. Our taxes continue to go up as our home values continue to go down. Not only are we affected by the recession but we are affected by out of control real estate taxes. We elect the Board of Ed and the Township Council to represent us. Do they represent you? When they continue to raise taxes? Many of us unfortunately are not in a position to attend Board or Council meetings. They take our silence as acceptance of their tax increased and policies. I urge you all to speak out. If you are not able to attend meetings because of two jobs, family responsibilities, then post to the Patch, sent letters to the editor of Wayne today, and send emails to our elected officials. Let your voices be heard.

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