A year and a half after Sandy, most towns that were hard-hit by the superstorm are not being forced to raise taxes dramatically to cover their essential services and programs.

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The Associated Press reports officials in Mantoloking have raised taxes about 16 percent, and Toms River has instituted a 7 percent tax hike, but most other municipalities have essentially normal tax rates.

"Local officials are doing an excellent job in trying to minimize the impact on the property tax payer, and still try to provide the quality of life services that they are required to under law," said Bill Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities.

He said municipal officials have been extremely vigilant in working with state and federal workers to recoup the dollars, but unfortunately there are numerous federal regulations that no one was aware of when the Sandy restoration process began. That has made it difficult and slowed down parts of the recovery process for the towns.

"Increasing taxes is the action of last resort," Dressel said. "The mayors and governing body officials, they know that is something they really don't want to do."

Borrowing a phrase Gov. Chris Christie used earlier this week, Dressel said everything is on the table for these municipal officials.

"They've got to take a look at the crucial projects that they have been planning; they may have been looking at expanding a water or sewer plant, they may have been looking at putting in sidewalks or repaving roads, they may have been looking at expanding senior and recreation programs," he said. "But now, they've got to make the white-knuckle choices on what's going to have to be cut."

Dressel also said some towns will have to borrow more money to avoid tax hikes.

"Bonding of things that traditionally have not been bonded -- you're kicking the can down the road but you find yourself in a quagmire," he said. "You have to pay for essential services, but you've got to do it in a way that doesn't drive people out of town. It's not a very comfortable situation for municipal budget-makers to be in."

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.