SCOTCH PLAINS — The township council will introduce the 2023 operating budget next week, and it is expected that the municipal portion of the total property-tax levy this year will rise by about 3.5 percent, or $70 for the average household, thanks to higher expenditures associated with health insurance, pensions and a new ambulance service for the fire department along with increased costs for services and utilities.
At a budget meeting with council members and department heads last week, Township Manager Al Mirabella reviewed his spending proposals and revenue projections while the governing body discussed spending needs with department leaders. He told the Union County HAWK that the township remains “financially strong” and that the budget will continue to provide all services and no layoffs are planned.
Total appropriations this year will be $28.285 million, with salary appropriations for municipal employees amounting to just over $11.38 million, an increase of $598,614 that Mr. Mirabella told the council is due mainly to contractual salary boosts. Contributions to the state pension plan will rise by $400,000, while health-insurance premiums will be 9 percent higher. The township last year switched from the state insurance plan — which would have resulted in a 22.5-percent increase this year — to a health fund in Bergen County. Another $500,000 in expenditures will be from the coming implementation of an ambulance corps in the fire department, which Mr. Mirabella told HAWK “will keep the town safer” by assisting the rescue squad, which has experienced shortfalls in available volunteers. The library’s state-mandated budget will increase by $130,051 to $1.687 million.
On the revenue side, it is anticipated that state aid will remain at $2.27 million, the same level it has been for more than two decades, while $3.6 million of township surplus will be used. Redevelopment director Thomas Strowe said it is anticipated that at least $196,000 in PILOT payments from the Glenside development on Route 22 will be paid to the township this year.
The municipal property-tax rate will rise to $1.621 per $100 of assessed value after being flat last year. Mr. Mirabella told HAWK that the municipal taxes will comprise 14 percent of the total property-tax bill, one of the lowest percentages in all of New Jersey.
“Scotch Plains is doing everything possible to mitigate the plain fact that just about everything costs more these days than ever before,” Mayor Joshua Losardo told HAWK. He warned of a “tough year all around,” noting that on a conference call last Friday, board of education officials told him and Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr “they are also preparing for significantly higher costs in transportation, health insurance, pension costs, etc.” Reading about challenges being faced by other towns in the area, Mayor Losardo added, is “proof that we’re all in the same boat.”
Amidst the atmosphere of rising interest rates, the township’s recently-awarded Aaa bond rating will help secure a lower interest rate if the township needs to issue bonds, Mr. Mirabella said. That top rating, which Scotch Plains shares only with New Providence, Westfield and Summit in Union County, “speaks to good management and the financial strength of the community.”