BY RICHARD QUINNTOMS RIVER BUREAU
LAKEWOOD — A tax revaluation and a series of tax appeals make it difficult to put this year's municipal budget in context.
Still, nine days after the Board of Education spending plan was trounced at the polls, the Township Committee Thursday unveiled its 2006 municipal budget.
A public hearing will be held next month.
"We are having a tax increase," Mayor Meir Lichtenstein said before the meeting. "It's really hard to figure out."
News of higher taxes is all Malcolm Smith needed to hear.
"That's not exactly pleasing," said Smith, who owns several properties along Route 88.
Yehuda Shain, a Forest Avenue resident, said individuals will pay more under the new budget, a disturbing trend of rising taxes over the past two years.
"It's definitely going to go up," Shain said.
Township Manager Frank Edwards introduced the budget by announcing that it would spend $59,967,650. Lichtenstein said the tax levy is about $31 million.
Edwards also said the tax rate is expected to be 41.2 cents per $100 of assessed property value. On a house assessed at $291,617, the township average, that would be a municipal tax bill of $1,201.
The low rate is deceiving, though.
Lakewood underwent a property revaluation last year. The township's ratable base jumped from $2.9 billion to $7.5 billion, according to tax records. The revaluation makes year-to-year tax comparisons difficult.
"Are we going to spend more than last year?" Lichtenstein asked prior to the meeting. "Yes. But is it more taxes than last year? We don't know. We have to wait for everything to shake out."
The lack of solid budget information is believed to be one reason the $108 million school budget was defeated by voters. Residents, however, do not get to vote on the municipal budget.
They can speak at a public hearing on the budget, scheduled for May 25. The budget will likely be adopted that night.
Further complicating this year's budget process is a slew of tax appeals filed following the revaluation. Lichtenstein said there were more than 100 appeals, and the final budget may change when they are resolved.
Committee members did not comment on the budget when it was introduced. Committeeman Charles Cunliffe did ask that a budget summary be posted on the township Web site as quickly as possible.
Committeeman Robert W. Singer voted against the budget, although he did not say why.
Lichtenstein cautioned residents not to get too upset at the budget until more details are resolved before the May 25 public hearing. Right now, he said, there are still questions about taxes he can't answer.
"We don't know," the mayor added. "We're so in limbo."