By Larry Barszewski

Manalapan’s newly proposed budget includes a half-million dollars to kick-start its switch from septic tanks to sewers, as well as money for 5% pay raises and a 5% one-time bonus for town employees.
Town commissioners set a tentative property tax rate of $3.00 for every $1,000 of taxable value at their July 26 meeting, following their second budget workshop that morning. That’s a 5.3% drop from the current tax rate, but one that still amounts to a 21.2% property tax increase due to the town’s skyrocketing property values.
The commission will hold public hearings on the budget and tax rate at 5:01 p.m. Sept. 16 and 27 at Town Hall.
Commissioners opted against having a more significant tax rate reduction in order to address some key priorities, which include getting the town off septic tanks and making sure town employees are fairly compensated for the work they do.
Town Manager Linda Stumpf included $520,000 in the town’s $6.6 million operating budget to pay for some of the professional fees and needed studies for the septic-to-sewer conversion project and possibly other utility projects.
“That will help with the projects and the planning of the projects,” Stumpf said. If the money was not included in the budget, the town would have to borrow the money to do that preliminary work, she said.
Commissioners plan to give 5% pay raises to employees on top of a 5% pay boost they awarded in March, hoping to keep them from looking elsewhere for employment and creating a cushion for them during a time of high inflation. Stumpf said employees would be pleased, especially since the town’s police contract called for only a 3% raise this year.
Still, Commissioner John Deese said the town ought to do more to help employees during a difficult financial time. He successfully persuaded other commissioners to add the 5% bonus that would be a one-time deal and would not continue driving up salary costs for years to come. The bonus will cost about $110,000, he said.
Deese also requested a salary study be done so the town can decide if other salary adjustments will be needed later to stay competitive with other municipalities.
“I understand we have a smaller town, but we also get services far and above what you would have in other towns,” Deese said. “It’s a real serious and competitive marketplace out there and I think if we don’t address that and pay more attention to it, we could potentially find ourselves in a more difficult position going forward.”
Among other notable items:
• The budget includes money to hire a new security company to handle duties at the guard house on Point Manalapan following dissatisfaction with the current company. The new figure, $264,532, is a 30% increase from the current budget.
• The cost for fire-rescue services from Palm Beach County is increasing 13.1%, to $1.79 million, the largest increase in the past five years. Interestingly, the increase is due to rising property values in South Palm Beach, which the county uses to determine Manalapan’s assessment. South Palm Beach saw a big boost in its property values due to condo construction there.

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