Editor’s Note: On May 1, after this story went to press, the Hamilton Township Council introduced an amended township budget. In a statement, they said the budget will cut the mayor’s 5 percent tax increase in half, add a school resource officer (SRO) to schools, replace two police cars and accept the mayor’s proposal of two additional township police officers, reimburse the storm emergency fund $250,000 for 2018 snow operation costs not included in the original budget, reduce new municipal debt by over $1.5 million compared to 2017, and increase the transparency and openness of township government by funding videotaping of future council meetings.
Hamilton Township’s three-year streak of stable municipal taxes will come to an end this year.
Mayor Kelly Yaede’s proposed $105 million Hamilton Township budget would raise municipal taxes by 5 percent in 2018 to cover a $2.9 million spending increase over last year’s budget.
“The 2018 budget presents challenges arising from significant cost increases beyond the control of the township,” Yaede said in her budget statement. “The recent string of snow storms imposed additional financial burdens on the township for expenses related to snow removal, which was complicated by damaged trees and downed power lines.”
If the proposed budget is approved by the Hamilton Township council, it would increase the tax rate to approximately 81 cents per $100 of valuation. The average Hamilton homeowner with a property assessed at $214,300 would pay $84 more in municipal taxes.
Yaede said the increased costs in this year’s proposed budget are unavoidable, citing a $2.8 million increase in spending on group insurance, police and fire pensions, garbage disposal and debt services alone.
Spending on salaries and wages will also increase by $229,700 if the proposed budget is passed in its current form. The cost includes the addition of two police officers, increasing the police force to 171 officers.
While Yaede said the increases are unavoidable, Hamilton council president Anthony Carabelli Jr. said he’s confident the council can at least reduce burden of the approximately 4-cent tax increase on residents.
One of the main areas of the budget Carabelli wants to address is the township’s net pay on debt services, which has increased by roughly 34 percent since 2016—a $2.58 million increase. Carabelli said he wants to keep an eye on the township’s capital fund to ensure the township isn’t placing itself in future debt.
‘For those who want to oppose this budget, they need to be honest with our taxpayers. What roads do they not want to repave? Do they want to short-change public safety?’
In her budget statement, Yaede said the increase in debt service results from paying down the debt principal as well as the transition to permanent financing for a large portion of Hamilton’s outstanding debt in an effort to lock in interest rates.
“Debt has been, and will continue to be, incurred in order to fund capital projects, such as repaving of roads, replacement of roofs, purchase of certain vehicles and other purchases, which will have a significant life,” Yaede said, adding that the township’s debt is 38 percent below the legal amount.
Yaede added that spending over the last five years has increased 1.08 percent per year, which is lower than the rate of inflation. The proposed 2018 budget also anticipates $4.5 million in revenue, leaving the township with a roughly $3.5 million surplus.
However, the council president believes the township can still do more to reduce the municipal tax burden.
“I think we have to look at ways where we could either share our services amongst departments within the township, and also look at outside the township to shared service agreements with our surrounding municipalities,” Carabelli said.
Throughout April, Carabelli hosted five public budget workshops with township department heads—public works, police, the clerk’s office, etc.—to get a better sense of what their expectations are for the coming year.
“One of the things that we did was ask a lot of questions, ask a lot of good questions, regarding some of the initiatives and some of the new expenses that were anticipated for 2018,” Carabelli said. Understanding the needs of each department helped the council president look for opportunities to use shared service agreements within departments and consider what items are necessary or unnecessary.
While council members believe the proposed budget can be altered—council scheduled a public hearing on the final budget May 1, after this edition of the Post went to press—Yaede stands by her original proposal.
“For those who want to oppose this budget, they need to be honest with our taxpayers and admit to them,” she said. “What roads do they not want to repave? Do they want to short-change public safety with two fewer police officers? Do they want garbage collection to stop because they do not want to pay the necessary costs for that service? If we have another nor’easter in December, do they not want to plow our roads?”