Allenhurst taxpayers have had a very low school tax rate for the last six years but now they are being asked to approve a referendum on Nov. 4 allowing for a permanent increase of $150,000 annually in school taxes.
“That would be the minimum tax levy every year. It could go up but it is unlikely that it will go down,” School Board President Larry O’Rourke said earlier this week.
In 2008 Allenhurst’s annual school tax was $257,516 but when the state announced that non-operating school districts, or towns without their own schools like Allenhurst, would be closed by 2010, the school board began a program of lowering the local school tax rate by using existing surplus in the budget.
In 2009, the school tax rate was lowered by more than 90 percent, or to $24,065.
For last six years school taxes have averaged $30,183.
“We were winding down operations in the school district, giving tax relief, and got permission from the state to use surplus to reduce taxes dramatically. It was sort of a year-by-year decision,” O’Rourke said.
A letter on borough stationery was recently sent to all residents explaining the situation.
“During that time, our surplus was depleted but now that it appears our Board of Education will continue to function, we need to have funds to provide the necessary services. Essentially, we have been using our surplus and now we need to return to normal funding,” the letter said.
“Clearly this is a unique situation and we hope our residents support the school board’s efforts,” the letter said.
O’Rourke said that if the school district was eventually shut down by the state then any money left in the school budget would be turned over to the borough.
But now that is seems clear the state is not doing away with the Allenhurst school district in the near future, the $150,000 ballot questions is being presented as a means to increase the school budget without exceeding the state-mandated two-percent increase limit on spending increases.
“Ultimately the decision was made to put the question on the ballot and its language was decided by the state,” O’Rourke said.
If defeated, the school board still has an emergency reserve of $250,000 but O’Rourke said he urges residents to approve the referendum.
“If the referendum is defeated, we will have to go back to the state about what to do and I don’t have an answer right now what will happen. We will certainly do what the state tells us to do,” he said.
O’Rourke said he believes using surplus to offset taxes was “a great idea.”
“For six years taxpayers got extraordinary tax relief. And I would do it again, six years of great tax relief; why not do it,” he said.
He also points out that the borough was not hit with any large costs to educate any special education students recently.
O’Rourke said that the school board pays, as required by law, for about four to five students to go to local vocational schools and for about seven students to go to Red Bank Regional High School.
The school board also pays for transportation to these schools and well as to the Hillel School in Ocean Township. Parents can also receive about an $880 a year stipend if they transport their own students.