Property Taxes Up 1.5%

The Township showed the preliminary 2019 budget at the January 28 Township Committee meeting.  The bottom line for the taxpayer is a 1.5% increase in taxes.

Recall that your property taxes fund five entities – (1) 46% – Schools; (2) 25% – Harding Municipal (police, DPW, administration, etc.); (3) 24% – Morris County; (4) 4% – Harding Open Space Trust; (5) 1% – Morris County Open Space.

The most recent Thumbnail reported on the preliminary Harding Township School budget.  The Board of Ed projected a 2% increase in the school portion of the total property tax.  This report covers the second largest portion of your property tax bill – municipal budget.  We hope to be able to get some insight into Morris County.

Harding spends approximately $9.2 million to deliver the various services.  About $5.35 mm, or 58%, of that spend is for compensation.  Compensation is budgeted to increase 5.5% versus 2018 driven by a 4.5% increase in salaries and wages (three more employees and 2% increase in pay rate), a 7% increase in health insurance, a 7% increase in social security payments and a 10.8% increase in pension contribution.  Non-employee expenses (42% of total spending) are budgeted to actually decrease 2.5%.  Two police officers and one DPW employee will be added at a cost of $90K and $50K respectively.

Other drivers of spending (“appropriations” in government speak) include almost $80K for a Redevelopment Study and Plan related to Glen Alpin, $50K accrual for potential leave and compensatory time payouts and $616K (down from $750K last year) addition to the Capital Improvement Fund.

New Jersey statute requires that the budget must balance.  So the revenue to pay for all the spending must also be $9.2 million.  The revenue will come from property taxes (63% of total and budgeted to rise 1.8%), surplus (23%), “municipal revenues” – interest, fees, fines (5%), Energy Tax Receipts (5%) and Uniform Commercial Code – more fees (3%).

For the first time since 2008, the total assessed value of all property in HT (1,928 properties) is forecast to increase.  The total is expected to increase $5.5 million from just under $2 billion to $2.005 billion.  This increase is driven by new construction and improvements to existing properties outpacing successful property tax appeals.  For ten years slow construction was swamped by successful appeals.  Now for 2019, with more property to tax, this reduces the amount that most property owners have to pay.

Most property tax payers will see an increase of 1.5%.  This equates to a $44 increase for the average HT homeowner whose property is assessed at $1.04 MM.

A word on HT debt: at the end of 2019, total debt is forecast at $4,535,000, down from a peak of $13.8 million in 2009.  Debt could be totally eliminated by 2029 assuming no new issuance for a big project such as a major road re-construction or open space purchase.  Harding debt is rated AAA.  The purpose of the debt breaks down as follow:  Affordable housing ($1.8mm), Municipal ($722K), Glen Alpin ($365K), Wild Life ($607K) and Open Space ($1.05mm).

The Harding Open Space Trust, the kitty that is used to purchase and maintain properties, stood at $2.907 million at the end of 2018.   The OS property tax generates about $800K per year.   The rate is set by the TC and can be zero to 5 cents per $100 of assessed value.  It is currently 4 cents and will likely be discussed at the next TC meeting.

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