By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
City Council introduced a $26.7 million municipal budget Tuesday that keeps local taxes stable and also reflects Sea Isle City’s strong finances overall.
The city will also hold the line on water and sewer rates in 2022, the ninth straight year there has been no increase in utility charges.
In a statement about the proposed 2022 budget during a Council meeting, Mayor Leonard Desiderio characterized Sea Isle’s financial position to be “the best it has ever been.”
“The budget before Council today has no tax rate increase and includes a starting surplus of over $8 million – over 10 times the amount of surplus we started with in 2009,” Desiderio said.
The spending plan will be up for a public hearing and a final vote by Council at its March 22 meeting. It was introduced by a 5-0 vote.
Under the budget, the local tax bill for an average Sea Isle home assessed at about $685,000 will be $2,621 annually, said Frank Donato, the city’s interim chief financial officer. The figure does not include school and county taxes. In 2021, the total tax bill for local, school and county taxes for an average Sea Isle homeowner was $5,188.
Most of the revenue for the 2022 budget comes from the city’s property taxes. Overall, the amount to be raised by taxation is nearly $18.6 million.
The city’s 99 percent property tax collection rate is extraordinarily high and remains a major reason why Sea Isle’s finances continue to be strong.
Sea Isle is also benefiting from a hot real estate market at the Jersey Shore that has driven up home values. Rising home values, in turn, have expanded the city’s tax revenue base.
In addition to tax revenue, the city is also using $3.8 million in surplus funding to help finance the budget. Other major sources of budget funding include revenue from beach tag sales and parking fees.
In another indicator of Sea Isle’s strong finances, the city was able to exceed its 2021 budget projections for beach tag and parking revenue. Beach tag sales came in at $1.4 million in 2021, compared to the projected figure of about $1.3 million. Parking revenue totaled about $276,000, compared to the projected amount of $250,000, Donato said.
“It was a good season, revenue-wise,” Donato said of Sea Isle’s summer tourism.
Also underscoring Sea Isle’s strong finances, Desiderio said the budget includes more city services “than we’ve ever provided in the past.”
Sea Isle accomplished the budget without any one-time revenues and with no assistance from funding it received from the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal stimulus bill that helps communities recover from the pandemic.
Instead, Sea Isle intends to use its federal stimulus funding to help finance a series of flood-mitigation projects to help protect the low-lying island from stormwater, the mayor said.
One important component of the budget is Sea Isle’s membership in the Atlantic County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund for worker’s compensation, property, and liability insurance.
“The city’s involvement in the joint insurance fund is one of the key ways we properly manage the city in the most cost-effective manner,” Desiderio said. “We’re constantly educating and training our workforce to best ensure their safety; and we save tax dollars by pooling resources with other municipalities to provide a structured safety and risk management program.”
Altogether, the insurance fund includes 41 towns from Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties.
In his remarks, Desiderio recognized Kellie Seib, a member of Sea Isle’s Human Resources Department who served as chairwoman of the joint insurance fund for the past year.
“Kellie has proven to be an invaluable member of the city team, and has been instrumental in advancing safety initiatives, handling claims of every kind; and most impressively, helping the entire workforce navigate through all of the changing rules and requirements we’ve had to contend with during the past two years of the COVID pandemic,” Desiderio said.