Last night, in our first-ever Zoom meeting, the Council voted 4-1 to amend the municipal budget that was introduced on March 3rd and eliminate what was a proposed 2% tax increase. The amended budget, which is described below, was approved by the same margin. I was pleased to join the majority in both of these votes (and, in fact, voted against the budget as introduced last month) to ensure that Chester Township residents will not face a municipal tax increase this year. This is the second straight year in which Chester Township municipal taxes have remained flat.
The Top-Line Numbers
The Chester Township budget for 2020 is $15,368,751.33, of which $8,669,000.00 is raised through property taxes for municipal purposes. The rest comes from a mix of grants, state aid, and revenues such as building and construction permits and our shared service agreements.
Separate and apart from the Chester Township budget are the budgets for the Chester School District (about 42% of your tax bill), the West Morris High School District (about 24% of your tax bill), and Morris County (about 12% of your tax bill), the last of which was recently adopted with no tax increase. The Chester Township budget is about 20% of the total tax bill.
The Major Drivers
The 2020 municipal budget puts $650,000 into the capital reserve fund to get closer to a pay-as-you-go system for large expenses. This represents the largest one-year contribution to the capital reserve fund in recent memory, following contributions of $550,000 in 2019, $500,000 in 2018, and $400,000 in 2017.
The budget also anticipates putting $1.5 million toward paying down debt, following previous payments of $1.3 million and $1.25 million in 2019 and 2018, respectively. This paydown is part of an effort to build cash and reduce debt at the same time, and is continually evaluated based on the Township's financial position.
Our pension costs continue to go up, with our exact obligation dictated by the State of New Jersey. Our contribution to the Public Employees Retirement Program (PERS) is $346,115 and our contribution to the Police & Firefighter's Retirement Program (PFRS) is $596,780.
Across municipal departments, thanks to the cooperation of our department heads, we saw responsible decreases at the Department of Public Works, Planning & Zoning, the Tax Collector, and the Tax Assessor. We’re also keeping our Parks budget flat, even though this part of our government is funded by the open space tax (outside of the municipal tax levy).
One of the largest departmental decreases was in our municipal court. This is a result of last year’s expansion of our shared court agreement to include not only Mendham Township, but also Chester Borough. After hiring an additional part-time employee to help with the increased case load and also hiring a new judge, the net savings to taxpayers are roughly $18,000 for the year.
For better or worse, we saw very little snow this past winter and spent very little on snow removal. These dollars will roll into our emergency reserve at the end of the year, thus obviating the need for further contributions into this fund, which now stands at about 1.5 times the amount we budget for snow removal.
Finally, as I’ve done from the start, I asked that my Council salary be reduced and pulled out of the state's Defined Contribution Retirement Program (DCRP). Any part-time or elected individual who makes at least $5,000 from state or local government in New Jersey is automatically enrolled in the DCRP. I purposefully stay under this threshold, thus saving Chester Township the 3.015% retirement match.