They’ve got a rope around spending, and they’ve shrunk the size of government. But Toms River officials are asking homeowners to pay about $78.86 more per year under the municipal budget introduced Tuesday.

The public hearing and vote on the spending plan is scheduled in a special meeting May 1, at 6 PM in the municipal building.

According to Township Administrator Paul Shives, the problem is not in expenditures, but in incoming revenue, mostly tied to plummeting land valuations and tax appeals since the 2009 revaluation.

The proposed budget falls $500,000 below the state-mandated property-tax cap, and $8,000,000 under the appropriations limit. There are simply fewer financial resources supporting the system, says Shives.

“To raise the same amount of money, the tax rate has to go up. There’s no magic, there’s only two sides of that equation,” he explains. “If the assessed valuation goes town, the tax rate has to go up to raise the same amount of money.”

The steep decline undermines unprecedented moves that have kept municipal tax hikes to a minimum since Mayor Thomas Kelaher took office.

  • The payroll is 37 positions lighter than in 2008, all through attrition.
  • Salaries and wages in all applicable positions are undergoing no increases.
  • New EMS and police personnel are subject to revised pay scales and there are split raises for staffers in the Community Service Officers, Dispatchers, Teamsters and Supervisors Unions as well as for confidential workers.
  • White collar and clerical union staffers take voluntary furlough days.
  • Most department heads are under orders to reduce “other expense” line items by 10%.

These and other cost-cutting measures came about through negotiations between Shives and leaders of eight unions, most of whom took the rare step of reopening contracts in late 2010 to meet the township’s financial goals.

Shives says that the township has confronted, and mostly lost, about 7,000 tax appeals since 2009, goring the township surplus account for nearly $2,000,000, and there are about a thousand yet to be settled.

Township officials are looking for ways to expand shared service agreements with neighboring communities.

They currently share building inspection services with Brick Township, trash and recycling collection with Ocean County College, and trash and recycling along with fuel purchases with the Toms River Regional School District.

Shives says that the average $1,556 paid by Toms River homeowners in 2011 is 13% below the average in Ocean County, placing the township 21st out of 33 communities, and predicts that the plan as-is would keep the township in the same percentile.