Ocean City Mayor Calls for 12% Tax Hike

OCEAN CITY — Mayor Sal Perillo spent most of his budget address Thursday touting last year’s accomplishments, such as savings with trash contracts and an upcoming beach fill.

He saved the bad news for last — a proposed 12 percent tax hike in his spending plan.

“We already know that 2008 will be a difficult year, not only for Ocean City but for all communities in New Jersey,” Perillo said.

Ocean City for the first time in many years saw a staggering drop in equalized property value from $14 billion last year to an estimated $12.5 billion in 2008.

In his eight-page speech, the mayor neglected to mention a few important figures — such as the total budget ($60.5 million) and the amount to be raised by taxation ($42.9 million).

And he fudged the tax impact, declaring in his speech an 8 percent tax-rate hike for 2008. (The tax rate is actually going down this year, thanks to the revaluation.)

The mayor is proposing a tax rate of 34 cents per $100 of assessed property value. This year’s property revaluation makes a comparison with last year’s tax rate unhelpful. But the tax levy—the total dollars city property owners must pay—will go up by an estimated 12.2 percent.

Perillo blamed several factors outside the city’s control for the tax hike. City pension costs are increasing by $700,000 this year. The city must pay the library 15 percent or $500,000 more this year. All told, these factors alone increase the city’s budget by more than $4 million, Perillo said.

The mayor touted the island’s comparatively low tax rate—36th lowest of 39 towns in Atlantic and Cape May counties by his account. But many residents here pay significantly more in actual tax dollars because of the high value of their properties compared to those in neighboring towns. The city plans to cut two more full-time employees this year in addition to the nine cut last year. As a result, the city’s payroll is increasing by just 4 percent.

The city plans to spend $20 million on capital improvements this year using $11 million in grants. One of those projects will provide solar power to four public buildings using $1.6 million in private funds.

The city plans to spend $5 million on roads and drainage and will replace equipment on three playgrounds.

The city will begin construction on a 7,000-square-foot senior center next to the public library. Ocean City also will benefit from an $8.8 million beach-replenishment project to begin in a matter of weeks.

As part of his budget message, Perillo announced several new initiatives. Soon, the city will offer a reverse 911 system to notify residents by phone, e-mail or text message about flooding or other emergencies.

The mayor is launching a tax-abatement program to encourage residents to rehabilitate historic buildings instead of demolishing them.

Cape May County plans to build a new 7,500-square-foot senior center next to the library, which also is expanding.

Under Ocean City’s form of government, City Council may set the tax rate and simply let the administration determine how to meet it. But past councils have made specific recommendations about ways to cut taxes, and this year likely will be no different. Various budget meetings are scheduled for later this month.

To e-mail Michael Miller at The Press: Mmiller@pressofac.com

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