Sandy Wreaks Havoc On Ocean County Tax Base [AUDIO]
Hurricane Sandy is estimated to have wiped out around two percent of Ocean County's tax base - as much as two billion dollars worth of damage. However, officials believe it's still too early to predict the impact it will have on property taxes.
Freeholder John Bartlett says out of the 33 municipalities within the County, only 21 have reported their tax base loss-however the number is already around a million. Other major municipalities like Toms River, Lavallette, and Ocean Gate still need to report their damage.
Bartlett, who is the chair of the County finance committee, says until the final totals are collected it is unclear what the actual impact will be. He does assure whatever the outcome, residents shouldn't expect anything dramatic.
"Will there be an effect? Yes. Will it be a huge effect? No," says Bartlett, adding he doesn't think "anyone would look at something that would rock them. That would set them back and say 'What is this?'"
The next budget will be introduced April 3rd, and Bartlett notes crafting it will be a "juggling act."
The county has maintained low taxes through stringent fiscally conservative policies, including implementing cuts wherever possible. The Freeholder says the Board tries to make prudent cuts, relying on attrition whenever possible. However, he acknowledges it gets to a point where "you're going to need someone to drive the trucks."
"And if you cut back too much you can't respond to emergencies when you have them."
The majority of the storm's damage affected residents of the Barrier Islands of Ocean County, communities which Bartlett says had a proportionally large percentage of the tax burden.
"The tax burden to some degree shifts from the Ocean where it had been to the mainland."
Overall property values in the area have fallen due to a depressed real estate market. Ocean County administrator Carl Block is hopeful the burden from the storm will be off the county's budget within three to five years, during which the damaged properties will be rebuilt.
While two thirds of the municipalities have reported their damages, there is fear the number could grow, especially as residents who have summer homes come back and inspect damage.
Bartlett reiterates that there is no such thing as an average taxpayer, so residents in different municipalities will see different effects. While property tax increases are not definite, he hopes residents of Ocean County understand the situation is from a once-in-a-century-storm and not fiscal mishandling.
"People understand there is damage that needs to be repaired, damage to county roads, county infrastructure, and county equipment. And those costs are borne by taxpayers."