Despite a $600,000,000.00 ratable deficit on the coast, taxpayers in Toms River Township can find some solace in this year's proposed budget set to be introduced next week.

Downtown Toms River outside Administration Building. (Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media)
Downtown Toms River outside Administration Building. (Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media)

Superstorm Sandy continues to delegate major impacts into Toms River's budget even four and a half years afterwards.

In the glass half full, Township Administrator Paul Shives says they've seen a marketable improvement compared to the deficit they were in with the ratable tax base.

"From the $2.2-billion dollar loss we suffered to now...I would call that good progress," said Shives.

Following the storm nearly 10,000 properties in Toms River saw at least some level of damage, but for 60-percent of them it was relatively minimal and they were able to move past it.

The other 40-percent or 3,795 property owners who were not as fortunate and their properties fell under the ranking of "substantially damaged" met FEMA criteria to elevate or demolish and re-build.

Despite a lot of good news in this year's budget, there remains more than 600 sandy damaged homes in limbo and waiting for a future of its own.

"Without question, the largest issue facing the Township is the ongoing recovery of the tax base that was damaged from Superstorm Sandy," said Mayor Tom Kelaher.

As of March 3 of this year, 2,066 homes have been demolished of the 2,207 with approved permits (about 93-percent), 1,503 new homes have been built of the 1,953 approved (about 77-percent), and 859 homes have been elevated of the 1,188 approved (about 72-percent).

However, only 2,362 of the 3,795 "substantially damaged homes" have been addressed, (62.24-percent).

"We're hopeful...and I think justifiably so, that over the next year or two we'll see additional growth especially with the homes that were substantially damaged," said Shives.

He adds that once the Army Corps of Engineers can begin their project, property values will then rise and re-developments will also occur.

This year's tax rate will be less than a one-percent increase or $22.81 on an average home assessment (additional property taxes) with the overall budget total standing at $125,558,744.00 which is a rise to where it was in 2016 at $123,853,514.00.

The amount to be raised by taxation being introduced is a decrease of $2,198,149.29 to $82,590,921.61 from the 2016 budget.

"The 2017 budget will keep property taxes as low as possible while maintaining the quality of essential services," said Kelaher. "Management practices and financial planning measures that are already in place are helping us save money, and we will continue to look for more cost-saving opportunities in the future."

There is also an increase in the "Reserve For Uncollected Taxes" which goes from $10,099,442.00 in 2016 to $10,496,452.00 in 2017.

The "Reserve For Uncollected Taxes" is a mandatory expenditure under New Jersey State Law for the portion of the budget which will not be collected.

This includes the fire districts, the school and county portions of which the township has no control.

"That is based on the tax levies of the other taxing entities," said Shives. "This includes the county...principally the board of education which is 51-percent of taxes levied, the fire districts or whatever it happens to be."

He adds it's an increase of about $400,000.00 from last year and all of those tax entities must receive 100-percent of whatever amount they levied.

They do have the funding this year, Shives adds, to provide essential services such as police protection with a full force.

"Toms River is a large town and has large town problems," said Shives. "Especially on the public safety side which our guys do a remarkable job with."

He adds they were able to keep the full force at 160 positions for 2017.

This time last year they had nine vacancies which were eventually filled in the adopted 2016 budget.

Internally this year the township, Shives says, will begin financial planning for employee contract negotiations due to expire at years end.

"My goal is to be able to maintain and pay the level of benefits we have for the employees," said Shives. "But within an affordable range of what we can afford to pay."

Ideally he hopes the township can have those contracts run through 2020 and plans to begin negotiations by this summer.

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