BYRAMnSchool officials in Byram are cautiously optimistic that their proposed 2005-2006 budgets will pass when voters go to the polls in two weeks. The average homeowner can expect an increase of $112.10 per year in taxes if the both the combined Lenape Valley Regional High School and Byram Township School budgets are approved on April 19. The average house in Byram is assessed at $145,000; translating into an increase of $78.30 or $6.53 per month in taxes to support the K-8 township district. "The budget is in pretty good shape as far as continuing our programs," said Joseph Pezak, Bryam Township Schools superintendent. "What we're concerned about is if our budget fails. Then several of our programs will be at risk." A tax increase of $269,696 for districts sending students to Lenape Valley Regional High School will result in a 2.84 percent or $33.80 in added taxes for Byram homeowners. "We've tightened our belts," said Robert Klinck, assistant superintendent for business at Lenape Valley Regional High School. "We prepared a budget we felt could pass. We've cut back in so many areas. That's why I'm so hopeful it will pass." The remaining sending districts include Stanhope, which will have an increase of $45.99 per year or 4.47 percent; and Netcong, which will have taxes rise .98 percent or $12.62 annually per average household. The 2005-2006 general fund budget for Byram Schools compared to 2004-2005 will rise from $11,202,481 to $11,513, 257, an increase of $310,776 or 2.77 percent. The percentage increase in that school budget is 3.24 percent, which includes the operating budget plus debt service. Even though the Byram Township Schools tax represents only about 37 percent of the entire tax bill, the K-8 school tax rate will increase by .054 percent, which means for every $100,000 in assessed property values, taxes will go up $54 next year. "There's a negative temperament about property taxes in New Jersey," said Pezak. "I'm hoping the stakeholders here in Byram are sensitive to the needs of these students when they vote on the budget." Pezak said Byram's enrollment in grades K-8 grew by 48 students since the beginning of the school year and keeping class sizes down remains a top priority. He said the district hired two additional math teachers for the middle school and another instructor for the elementary school. All seven educators in the district scheduled to retire at the end of the school year will be replaced, he said. Pezak attributed the budget increase due to the township being two years removed from the opening of a new elementary school and the consequences that followed from having to hire additional staff. The new S-1701 legislation limits Lenape Valley and other schools across the state to line item budget transfers of 10 percent compared to unlimited access in past years. The law also calls for a 2 percent reduction in pre-budget year expenditures by June 30, 2005, to appropriate an additional $106,200 in property tax relief from July 2004. "The Legislature has taken the ability to manage away from the administrators," said Klinck. "It makes it more difficult. We have to set our priorities ahead of time." Klinck said school officials were able to add six new classrooms by better utilizing existing space in an effort to keep class sizes down. Lenape's 2005-2006 budget increases $478,238 over last year from $11,496,685 to $11,972,873. Klinck said the new S-1701 law leaves no taxpayer contingency for unforeseen costs and no flexibility to return funds, if the proposed budget fails. "We have no contingency for money anymore," he said. "If the budget fails, we'll have to cut programs."