The borough of Barnegat Light will be able to hold the line on municipal taxes due to an increase in ratables and a concentration on paying down the debt service.
The 2015 budget introduced at the March 11 meeting of borough council included a general appropriation of $3,341,612. The borough’s tax rate will remain at 19.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The municipal purposes tax rate does not include county or school taxes.
A public hearing on the spending plan is scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 8.
Last year, taxes had gone up one penny, and no one from the public commented at the hearing.
The total net valuation of taxable property in the borough is now $1.08 billion.
Recently, the borough refinanced its municipal debt and obtained a financing rate of .68 percent. The borough paid down $381,285 of its total debt.
Lifeguards, previously the lowest-paid on the Island, will benefit with money included in the introduced budget. A total of $725 more per week is allotted to be divided among squad members.
“That will put us more in line with the other towns. Hopefully they will be happy, and next year we can give them a raise again to get them closer,” said Councilwoman Dottie Reynolds, chairwoman of the beaches and parks committee.
The Barnegat Light Beach Patrol is a six-time champion of the Island-wide lifeguard tournament.
Beach badge sales for this year are already above the dollar amount of this time last year, Reynolds noted.
“We have sold $10,700 worth of badges; that is now more than $2,000 over this time in 2014.”
Water Line Breaks, Check for Gas Smell
In other decisions, when a resident’s water has to be shut off by the borough after a water line break, the fee will now be higher than before, if the crews have to come out after-hours.
The after-hours shut-off fees were raised to $200, compared to the former $75. Borough council members said the new charge reflects closer to the actual cost of paying the crews to come out.
“We’re not doing this to penalize anyone,” said Mayor Kirk Larson.
“It’s just to break even,” said Michael Spark, chairman of the water and sewer committee on council. “It can take four or five hours to find the shut-off valves if they’re under the snow drifts” and complete the job, he said.
“We’re paying the guys double-time to come out,” Spark said, and he also referred to the union contract that requires pay for a minimum number of hours when the employees are called out after-hours. “That’s what plumbers charge,” he added, speaking during the caucus meeting.
The prolonged cold snap caused 25 to 30 water line breaks in town, Spark said.
Apparatus of the outer parts of natural gas meters is also cracking under the cold in a few cases.
In his public safety report, Councilman Frank Mikuletzky advised homeowners to be aware for the smell of gas because there were “quite a few” cases of gas leaks in the past month. Some were in the diaphragms of meters and some in pipes.
One recent leak filled a garage with gas on 20th Street, and another on Sunday, March 8, came from a meter in High Bar Harbor.
“It seems like a good idea to walk around where the meter is and take a sniff. If you smell gas, report it and get away from it,” Mikuletzky reminded.
Touch-Ups Planned for Borough Hall
Two bond ordinances were introduced on first reading – one to appropriate $200,0000 for beach walk replacement, and another to appropriate $150,000 for repairs and improvements to the old Borough Hall on West 10th Street.
The repairs would include painting outside and new carpeting inside, said Borough Administrator/Clerk Gail Wetmore. The old Borough Hall section of the building houses the courtroom, tax assessor’s office and an annex station of the Long Beach Township Police Department, which is contracted to patrol Barnegat Light.
After a short executive session, council agreed to authorize spending up to $5,400 to LSRP Consulting for remediation where an underground storage tank used to be in the public dock area. The tank was removed in the past, but the remediation had not been done, borough representatives said.
Borough council accepted the resignation of Assistant Treasurer Paula Bastian, who is taking a position as the new temporary chief financial officer in Eagleswood Township.
In other business, council decided to raise the fee for lease of the 16th Street bayside bulkhead from $250 per week to $500 per week. A barge company and other businesses have been using the site for its easy access to the inlet.
In answer to a question during the public comment portion of the meeting, Wetmore said that soon all of the Island towns will be getting together to work on obtaining the credits for the Community Rating System that allow discounts on flood insurance. Currently, each town pursues those discounts separately, and some towns are qualifying for higher discounts than the 15 percent that Barnegat Light residents are receiving.
A resolution to oppose the proposed closing of “Gitmo,” the Guantanamo Bay prison detention camp in Cuba, was penned by Mayor Larson and passed with a vote of council.
“I hope it gets around the country,” the mayor said this week. “I don’t want them to bring those prisoners into New York,” he remarked at the caucus meeting.
Release of five Yemeni prisoners in January 2015 drew media attention to President Obama’s pledge to close the camp. Four were transferred to Oman and one to Estonia. The previous month, four detainees had been sent to Afghanistan and five others to Kazakhstan.
The borough Easter Egg Hunt is Saturday, April 4, at 10 a.m. at the West 10th Street recreational area.
Playground repairs and upgrades on West 10th Street will start April 6.