One of the most important responsibilities of an elected official is to steward taxpayer dollars in a responsible way. In New Jersey, that typically requires balancing expensive state mandates with local needs. In my six months on the Chester Township Council - and as liaison to our finance office - I've seen firsthand the diligent, long-term planning that has put our town in a strong financial position, able to sustain the types of unforeseen events that would otherwise trigger very expensive tax increases.
Chester Township's budget
The Chester Township budget for 2018-2019 is $14,121,524, of which $8,669,609 is raised through property taxes. The rest is generated through revenues such as our shared services agreements (Chester Borough pays Chester Township $120,000 for police services, Mendham Township pays Chester Township $30,000 for municipal court services), building and construction permits, cell towers, and other sources.
Separate and apart from the Chester Township budget are the budgets from the Chester School District (42% of your tax bill), the West Morris High School District (24% of your tax bill), and Morris County (12% of your tax bill). The Chester Township budget is 21% of the total tax bill.
Chester Township's tax levy
When our Finance Office created the first draft of Chester Township's 2018-2019 budget back in February, it included a full wish list and a 3.5% municipal tax increase. Working with each department head, the mayor and Council were able to eliminate certain projects and bring the increase down to 2% and then 1% and then less than 0.5%. The primary drivers of the increase were state-mandated pension costs, personnel, and the increased price of goods.
Then March hit and winter storms Riley and Quinn caused a level of damage we haven't seen since Hurricane Sandy. To pay for the associated snow removal, vehicle maintenance, and road repair, we spent $40,186 out of our "rainy day" fund and adjusted the budget to replenish the fund for future years. The end result was a municipal budget that increased the municipal tax levy 0.98% or half the rate of inflation. For a $666,500 home, this is an additional $33.32 for the year.
See where your tax dollars go
To make it easier for residents to see exactly where their tax dollars go, our CFO has developed a "tax calculator" wherein Chester Township residents may enter their assessed home values and see the total dollar amounts they are paying for each municipal service. Click here to access the tax calculator.
Participating in this year's budget process has motivated me to continually look for ways to save taxpayer dollars. Here are just a few examples:
Everything about public service is an education - it just requires the discipline to learn as much around town as you do in Town Hall. I'm doing my best to continue connecting with residents and always invite you to contact me at this website, my email, or on my cell.
Here are some of the places where I've done some learning this year: the Morris County Economic Development Committee Open House, a tour of the Chester Fire House, the New Jersey League of Municipalities' Budgeting Course for Elected Officials, numerous calls with JCP&L in March, an Office of Emergency Management tour during Winter Storm Riley, staffing the Highlands Ridge Barn as a warming center during the winter storms, the New Jersey Planning Officials' training seminar, the West Morris Mendham High School Spring Musical, Eyes of the Wild wildlife program at the Chester Library, Alstede Farms' Easter Bunny breakfast, the one-year anniversary for Morris County's Hope One mobile outreach van, the Chester Fire Company banquet, a tour of the Chester First Aid Squad, the Environmental Commission's dogwood tree give-away, Washington Township's Opioid Forum with Sheriff Gannon, the Chester-Mendham Republican Club Freeholder debate, the Garden State Initiative's Economic Policy Forum, Chester's Memorial Day ceremony, the DPW's electronics waste recycling day, the First Aid Squad's first aid training at the Highlands Ridge Barn, the Chester Spring Craft Show, Ryan Smith's Eagle Scout Ceremony, the Cub Scout Pack 316 open house BBQ, the Strawberry Festival Weekend at Ort Farms, the Chester Firemen's Carnival with Congressman Lance, a Somerset Patriots game, the Morris County 4H Fair, and the Morris County Young Republicans Summer Picnic.
I'm looking forward to what the rest of the summer brings and will be sure to keep you in the loop.