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Stone Harbor Tax Rate Up a Penny; Water Rates to Rise

Stone Harbor Tax Rate Up a Penny; Water Rates to Rise

By Vince Conti

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STONE HARBOR – The borough’s proposed 2024 budget calls for a 1-cent increase in the local purpose tax rate. The budget also contains a $5.7 million water and sewer utility spending plan with an increase in water rates for most users, based on a tiered system of water usage.

The $22.2 million general fund budget, presented by Chief Financial Officer James Craft on April 2, will move the tax rate from $0.302 to $0.312.

Craft’s presentation was his last for the borough. He is retiring this year, and the borough has named Cynthia Lindsay as his replacement.

He began his presentation by pointing out that 41% of the total property tax bill for property owners supported the local-purpose budget last year. Slightly more, 43%, went to the county. Other areas supported by the remaining property tax include the local school and the library system.

Stone Harbor has limited alternative sources of revenue – the largest of which is $1 million in beach tag fees – making the budget 71% dependent on property tax revenues. The borough does not have an occupancy tax for hotels and short-term rentals.

The local purpose tax rate called for in the new budget represents a 3.3% increase, but the actual local purpose levy is up by 4.4%.

Craft stressed growth in the general fund surplus, which he said increased to $2.2 million remaining after the budget makes use of $2.5 million of surplus as revenue. This use of surplus funds is 11% of the total general fund budget revenues.

The budget contains no salary raises for non-union personnel. It does make provision for an increase in career Fire Department personnel and for the new CFO. The payments for Craft as a shared CFO came from a shared service agreement with Avalon and were not part of Stone Harbor salary and wages.

Craft’s presentation noted that 33% of appropriations goes to salaries and wages, 21% to debt service, 24% to non-salary and wages operational expense, 8% to statutory requirements and 9% to cash payment, $2 million, on capital projects.

Debt service is lower in this budget but still represents 21% of the appropriations, meaning one in every five dollars goes to debt service, a high percentage compared to many of the other island municipalities in the county.

Among the major capital projects, there is $1 million allocated for upgrades to the 80th Street Marina, $750,000 for the 97th Street playground, $1.5 million for road reconstruction and $630,000 for stormwater and flood mitigation projects.

The borough’s self-financing water and sewer utility has a budget for 2024 of $5.7 million. The utility is 85% supported by user fees. Part of the reason for the increase in the water rates this year is that the utility used more surplus in the budget in 2023 than it was able to repay at the end of last year. The new rates are expected to generate $210,000 in new revenue for the utility.

Under the new budget, properties using more than the quarterly allowance of 10,000 gallons will pay $6.50 per 1,000 gallons, up to 50,000 gallons. The previous fee was $5.50 per 1,000. Those properties using between 50,000 and 80,000 gallons will pay $7.50 per 1,000. If a property uses more than 80,000 gallons, the charge will be $8.50 per 1,000. In each case the new rate is $1 per 1,000 gallons higher than it was last year.

Craft at a previous meeting said that about 31% of water users will see no increase because they do not use more than the quarterly allowance, whose rate has not changed.

The budget presentation is available on the borough website. The council will hold the required public hearing on April 16 prior to a scheduled vote to adopt the budget.

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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