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How Toms River
Cut Taxes During
Tough Times

Thomas F. Kelaher
By Thomas F. Kelaher
Mayor, Township of Toms River
scissors cutting dollar and taxes

The thought of preparing the unfinished 2009 fiscal year budget in my first year of elected office as the mayor of New Jersey’s 7th largest municipality during a national and worldwide economic crisis was daunting to say the least.

However, with the help of Business Administrator Robert Chankalian Jr., who recently passed away, a fiscally responsible administration, and the approval of the Township Council, Toms River Township reduced its municipal tax rate by 2.15-cents in spite of Trenton’s bureaucratic obstructions. While waiting for Corzine’s administration to finalize the state budget and pension deferral, Tom River was busy implementing attrition, re-alignment of the administration, elimination of a township department and shared services to make it possible for the average homeowner in our township to see an approximate $45 reduction in their municipal tax.

When I took office January 1, 2008, the 2009 fiscal budget became my immediate priority. I initiated an extensive program with my department heads, was fully understand the operation of their units, and knew where costs could be curtailed without elimination of services. For example, the deputy chief of police was scheduled to retire. After extensive consultation with the police chief, it was determined the deputy chief’s duties could be spread out among three captains, and the position could be eliminated. The result was a savings of the deputy chief’s salary and benefits.

A similar review was made within other departments, and comparable results were achieved. Another case in point, the manger of our 18-hole golf course retired and the assistant manager was promoted to director, understanding he would have to function in that capacity without an assistant. Toms River has avoided the necessity of layoffs and/or furloughs by adhering to a policy of personnel attrition. The elimination of the Department of Community of Development was made possible by transferring the duties of that department to the Engineering Department.

Furthermore, we have explored our entire operation to determine where shared services with other municipalities would be feasible. I am happy to report we have been able to enter into a very productive shared services agreement, and we are actively pursuing similar types of programs with other nearby towns.  Looking forward, we are considering reducing our summertime twice weekly garbage collection on the mainland; however, keeping it at twice a week on the barrier island due to the influx of seasonal visitors.

Another opportunity for cost saving will be accomplished when the County of Ocean inaugurates its single-stream recycling system. It is the intention of our township to furnish every taxpayer with a recycling robo can, which will be a different color than the garbage robo can. Under the single stream recycling concept, the robo can will accept newspapers, glass, cans and aluminum. Because this material is not perishable, the recycling pick up can be reduced from once each week to every two weeks. The use of recycling robo cans will reduce the township’s recycling truck crew from a two man team to a one-man driver. The personnel not needed on the recycling trucks will then be reassigned to other duties within the Public Works Department, making it possible for more in-house projects to be completed. Our longstanding policy of bulk pick up “on demand” is being eliminated. Bulk pick up will now be done on a set schedule for different areas of the township.

Finally and reluctantly, we are eliminating the opportunity for residents to bring bulk items to our Public Works yard. Residents are now being directed to the Ocean County Landfill. This new practice will reduce the amount of bulk trash handled by our Public Works Department and result in a reduction of tipping fees paid by the township to the county facility.

I am grateful for the level of cooperation within the township that has enabled us to lower taxes this year, and I am especially grateful to the elected officials in other municipalities for their willingness to explore shared services agreements. This spirit of cooperation is a bright light in the present dark economic climate.

This article was originally published in New Jersey Municipalities magazine. Vol. 86, No. 6, June 2009




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