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It's April: Time for Budgets, Spring Sports and...Snow

School and municipal budgets laid out, spring school sports kick off with rain and some snowflakes.

The Board of Education last Monday all in one night — to keep a nine-period day at Ridge High School, overturning a previous decision, to adopt an $89-million school budget to place on the April 27 ballot, and to investigate a solar project that would fund some needed roof repairs.

The school board's 6-3 decision to return about the high school was reached after a number of board members said they had received at least 360 emails regarding the issue of the nine-period day. Board Member Ken Wilke said that approximately 98 percent of the emails he had received were in favor of maintaining the nine-period day. "I feel the nine-period day is a better fit for our district," he said.

Also on Monday, the school board voted to adopted a proposed budget that will ask taxpayers to fund $80.1 million of the proposed $89 million school budget for 2011-12. 

The figure that will be printed on the April 27 school budget to fund the current budget —$74,368,937 —would be a flat 2 percent increase above this year's tax levy, according to school figures. Taxpayers also would fund $5.7-million in debt payments, a figure not placed on the ballot.

Even so, if the budget is approved, township taxpayers would see a 3.6 percent increase in their school taxes for 2011 since the school budget year and tax levy is averaged over six months of each year.

If approved, the proposed school tax would add another $248.53 onto the average township home, which is assessed at $581,060, said School Business Administrator Nick Markarian.

At the same meeting, a majority of school board members also directed Markarian to work with the school architect's staff to come up with a plan to finance many needed roof repairs by allowing solar vendors to install solar installations on school property. That decision means the school board will decline to participate in a proposed Somerset County project to install panels on multiple municipal and school properties in Bernards and other municipalities around the county. 

Then, on Tuesday night, the Township Committee introduced a $35,5766,902 municipal budget for 2011, a decrease from last year's budget of $36.15-million.

However, the proposed municipal tax levy for 2011, $17 million, would be a 2.98 percent increase from 2010 if the budget is approved after a public hearing scheduled for the April 26 Township Committee meeting. Municipal officials said they have experienced double-digit increases in areas such as state-mandated pension costs. However, officials said the overall tax levy proposed for this year is just slightly above the $16.7-million tax levy in 2005.

Moreover, Township Administrator Bruce McArthur and other officials said that the township will by this November be completely debt-free, except for open space investments financed separately by the township open space tax.

Also on Tuesday, the Township Committee was told by its demographer,  William Draper, that the in the 2010 census because the census bureau failed to count homes within Bernards Township that have a Far Hills address. The census count for 2010 was 26,652, while Draper said the figure actually is somewhat above 28,000.

Mayor John Malay said William Draper, a township retiree who is a volunteer demographer, had been asked to look more closely at the numbers since the appeared to be on the low side.

The Township Committee directed McArthur to work with Draper to approach the U.S. Census Bureau for a re-examination of the figures since the township's eligibility for grant money, a liquor license and more.

Meanwhile, student athletes awaited Friday, April 1 for the opening of several spring sports — including baseball, softball, boys lacrosse and golf. Except for lacrosse, most of those athletes had to wait to get out and play — the winter of 2010-11 brought some rain and fat snowflakes to delay many games for a day or more.

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