Red Bank's 25-cent property tax increase enacted by a 3-1 vote June 15 will keep the city from going "down the tubes" by allowing for the paving of 55-60 side streets within the municipality as well as a full-time codes enforcement officer, according to Commissioner Ruth Jeno.
Interim City Manager and Financial Director John Alexander said the city needs a property tax increase just to keep from going belly up - if the city is to undertake the $2 million paving project.
The city needs $200,000 per month in its reserves to cover costs during times when expenditures exceed revenues, which necessitates an increase in property tax revenue if the city borrows from its "healthy" general fund for the paving project, he said.
"We cut until we couldn't cut anymore," Jeno told the packed house before the budgetary vote. "Our income is basically property tax - that's it."
She compared the additional amount citizens will be paying in taxes with the amount one would spend during a night out, or the bill for a month of cable TV.
"It's our responsibility and our job to make the decisions to take care of this city," Jeno said in response to comments from residents who disagreed with the tax increase. The inclusion of a full-time codes enforcement officer to this year's budget as well as paving the streets should improve the look of the city and draw in more people and businesses, she said. "Is saving our city not worth a cable TV bill for a month? If we don't [pave side roads] now, our city's down the tubes."
Resident Ryan Jacobs pointed out that some residents are on fixed incomes that prevent them from being able to afford a night out even under the current tax rate.
"It's not an easy decision," said Vice Mayor John Roberts. "We all argued. Red Bank needs to be reinvested into, to get roads paved and to get codes enforced."
Commissioner Floy Pierce, the sole vote against the measure, stated that while she does own several properties in Red Bank, her dissenting vote was not based on an aversion to the increase in her own taxes, but on raising the taxes of those who are not able to afford it.
Mayor Monty Millard, who approved the budget with the increase on first reading, was absent for the final vote.
The percentage of Red Bank residents age 65 or older is 14.4, according to Alexander. Jeno said the city offers a tax-relief program for its elderly and low-income families.
Resident Cathy Campbell admitted her road needs paving, but complained her property taxes have increased almost threefold since she moved to Red Bank 20 years ago.
Commissioner Ken Welch explained that the city is saving money by paving the streets at the same time Dayton Boulevard is being paved with federal funds, as the equipment is already in the city.
"Part of the cost of repaving streets is bringing in the equipment, and by doing this now, we get a better price," he said. "The more streets we pave, the price goes down per mile."