Reliance on property taxes

will hit homeowners hard


t’s been some time since taxpayers in Millstone Township have seen a significant one-year hike in the local school tax rate, but that good news streak will end this year.

The Millstone Board of Education’s proposed budget for 2000-01 carries a 14-cent increase, and there doesn’t seem to be too much the board can do about the situation.

To the owner of a home assessed at $300,000, a 14-cent increase will mean an additional $420 in school taxes to be paid in 2000-01.

However, residents who may be planning to complain to the board and demand that the new budget be thrown out need to know they’re not likely to see much difference if the budget is redone, no matter how meticulously.

According to school officials, Millstone is to receive $4.38 million in state aid this year, and while that’s up from a year ago, it’s not nearly what the board was counting on.

According to district administrators, under the formula used to derive entitle-ments in previous years, Millstone should have received $5.15 million for 2000-2001.

However, they say a new state funding program has decreed that much of that money would be better spent elsewhere and awarded it to districts with greater financial needs.

Board members say there is only so much they can do to cut spending in the budget. Almost 90 percent of the budget is allocated for fixed costs — expenses over which the board has no real control, like tuition paid to Allentown High School and staff health benefits.

Board members say they have cut costs in the remaining portion of the budget, the discretionary costs, spending less on new computers and other items than in the current year.

Millstone residents don’t have to be happy about a 14-cent tax hike, but they will have to pay it. Residents should know that if they vote down the budget on April 18, it will be sent to the Township Committee for review.

The governing body will either make recommendations for reductions or negotiate with the board to arrive at an amount to be cut. Typically, these cuts result in a token amount that may lower the projected increase by 1 or 2 cents.

This is not an endorsement of the Mill-stone budget, just a statement of fact that acknowledges New Jersey’s heavy re-liance on property taxes to fund the operation of our schools.

Residents with complaints about how the Garden State’s schools are funded would be well-served to make their case to their legislators. It is only when the breaking point is finally reached that the people in Trenton will begin to pay attention.