Homeowners in Westfield are paying some of the highest average property tax bills in the state, according to a Star-Ledger analysis. The average total Westfield bill comes in at $14,329.07, compared with the statewide average of $7,870.28, ranking it the 29th highest out of 566 municipalities, or in the top five percent.
While the statewide average property tax increase was 1.7 percent for 2012, the smallest bump in more than two decades, Westfielders saw a 3.1 percent tax hike for 2012, placing 07090 in the top 23 percent for total tax bill increases. The town's average school bill came in at more than double the statewide average.
The Star-Ledger noted that property taxes statewide rose 2.4 percent in 2011, the first year Christie’s 2 percent cap was in effect. But the trend of lower increases could be reversed because of Hurricane Sandy, according to the report.
In Manasquan, which suffered some of the worst damage from Sandy, local officials said the cost of rebuilding might drive up tax rates by at least 20 percent, the report said. To top it off, the tax base shrank as properties were washed away, according to the report. Towns are allowed to exceed the 2 percent limit on property tax collections for emergencies such as Sandy.
During his recent State of the Town address, Westfield Mayor Andy Skibitsky spoke of the fiscal challenges facing residents. The mayor said his ongoing objective is to contain costs and bring spending down to more sustainable levels while still keeping Westfield a desirable place to live, work and visit. While it has been difficult to balance the wants and needs of residents with limited resources, the mayor said he had worked hard to make steady progress on this front, citing the refinancing of outstanding bonds at a "substantially lower interest rate" that will yield a savings of $180,000 over next five years.
While he said much has been accomplished in terms of cutting expenses, the decrease in non-property tax revenues has proven to be an "extraordinary challenge."
Referring to instituting 2012's first-ever sewer fee as a "last resort," the mayor said had it not been implemented a $1.3 million budget gap would have resulted. That shortfall would have forced services to be cut to levels council members unanimously agreed would be "unacceptable."
Skibitsky noted that 2012 municipal salaries and wages came in at slightly less than they were in 2005. Mostly through attrition, with the workforce down 20 percent from where it was in 2005, efficiencies and collaborating with unions was this able to be accomplished.Town CountyAverage County BillAverage Municipal BillAverage School BillAverage Total BillPercent Change from 2011 Westfield Union$3,204.80$2,657.55$8,466.72$14,329.073.1% StatewideAverage$1,425.45$2,324.66$4,120.16$7,870.281.7%
The data above, which divides property tax bills by municipal, county and public education costs, was compiled from numbers released by the state Department of Treasury and county boards of taxation.
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