By Donald Wittkowski
Mayor Jay Gillian’s proposed $74.2 million municipal budget and a bond ordinance to finance an extensive dredging program for clogged lagoons along the back bays top the agenda for the City Council meeting Thursday.
City Finance Director Frank Donato is scheduled to give Council an overview of the mayor’s 2016 spending plan, which includes a proposed penny increase in the municipal property tax rate.
Donato will focus on the city’s growing ratables base and its major sources of revenue, including beach badge sales, said city spokesman Doug Bergen.
Ocean City’s property tax base has grown from $11.3 billion to $11.4 billion, ranking it third among New Jersey municipalities in terms of its combined real estate value. Meanwhile, the city pulled in a record $4.18 million in revenue from beach badge sales in 2015.
Gillian said the rise in ratables will help the city complete even more capital improvements without burdening taxpayers.
The mayor gave a preview of the budget during his “State of the City” address on Feb. 11, but Council will get its chance to scrutinize the plan in greater detail during its meeting 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.
After Donato makes his presentation, the budget process calls for Council to introduce the spending plan in March, followed by a public hearing and final vote in April.
Gillian had hoped to keep the municipal property tax rate stable. However, an estimated $1.2 million decrease in library funding for the budget will force the city to raise the property tax rate by 1.1 cents.
For the owner of a typical home assessed at $500,000, the increase will translate into an extra $55 in municipal taxes in 2016.
Despite his displeasure with the tax increase, Gillian said the spending plan is a “barebones” budget overall.
“I’m confident that the city team has delivered a budget that is fiscally responsible, without any fluff and fair to all taxpayers,” the mayor said in a statement posted on the city’s website.
The budget maintains all of the city’s “superior services” and includes an array of municipal improvement projects throughout town, Gillian said.
Council is expected to vote Thursday on a $17.5 million bond ordinance to underwrite some of the projects that are centerpieces of the mayor’s proposed $98.5 million capital plan over the next five years.
Big-ticket items include $10 million this year for a major dredging program that would remove mud and silt from clogged lagoons and channels along the back bays. Some of the shallow lagoons are impassable for boat traffic during low tide.
Gillian has made roadway and drainage projects another top priority of his capital plan as the city continues to fight tidal flooding generated by coastal storms, including last month’s powerful nor’easter.
The bond ordinance up for Council approval would set aside $800,000 for design and engineering work on roadway improvements, the first step in the reconstruction of flood-prone streets.