Milton residents could see a property tax increase as part of the fiscal year 2023 budget, the town’s third increase since 2015.
Under the proposal, the tax rate would go from $0.252 per $100 of assessed value to $0.299 per $100 of assessed value, an 18% increase. Property taxes are Milton’s largest revenue generator; through FY 2022, the town is expected to take in $1.235 million, about $15,000 more than expected. With the increase, FY 2023 is estimated to generate $1.5 million.
In addition, the proposed budget calls for a 15% increase in business licenses, an increase in waste and recycling fees from $61.50 per quarter to $63.50 per quarter and a hike in water availability and usage fees. It should be noted that trash and recycling fees are stipulated in the town’s contract with provider GFL Environmental, while revenues raised by water fees are restricted to being spent on improvements to the water system.
Town Manager Kristy Rogers’ budget shows the town running a small surplus, with $4.75 million in revenue against $4.69 million in expenditures.
Among other notable items in the budget is using $250,000 in realty transfer tax for operational expenditures for public safety. Transfer tax revenue is restricted by state law to certain uses. Rogers has said in the past that her projected revenue is not exactly what she thinks the town will take in, but what the town intends to spend it on, with the rest going into reserve funds that the town has recently used for capital improvement projects. The draft budget estimates $587,000 in transfer tax revenue.
While typically tax increases are used to fund large projects, that’s not the case with this budget.
At council’s Aug. 1 meeting, Mayor John Collier said, “This is a difficult budget year for us. Quite frankly, we’ve spent a lot of years cutting corners and holding taxes at zero. We can’t cut corners anymore. I don’t see any way we can provide the same level of service that people are comfortable receiving without raising taxes.”
Collier said the main large-scale capital improvement projects are ones carried over from previous years, such as the Magnolia Street bulkhead and drainage project, which started July 27, with a price tag of $1.2 million. While half of that cost is funded through a state grant, the town’s share of the project is larger than expected due to supply chain issues and increased costs of materials.
“This is not us trying to get into your pockets,” Collier said. “This is just us trying to provide citizens what you’re accustomed to having.”
He said the town has been fortunate to receive funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act in order to plan for a new well and treatment facility on town-owned land on Federal Street, as well as a realty transfer tax grant from Sussex County. Collier said town officials are trying to put that money to use for citizens with improvements to the water system and to the streets and sidewalks.
The town previously increased property taxes in fiscal years 2015 and 2021, with taxes going up by 11% in 2015 and by 5% in 2021. The budget is under review by the town’s finance committee, with council likely to hold a public hearing at its Monday, Aug. 15 meeting. Following that hearing, additional changes will be made as the budget is finalized. Under town code, the budget must be in place by Sept. 30, with the 2023 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.