By Jaimie Julia Winters
Residents could see a slight decrease in the municipal portion of their tax bill, according to a preliminary budget presented at the Feb. 19 council meeting.
Residents owning the average assessed home could see a drop of $9 on the municipal portion of their tax bill. Last year, the homeowner of the average assessed home of $510,588 paid $4,916 in municipal taxes, up $97 from 2017. As presented with the 2019 budget, the owner of this year’s average assessed home would pay $4,908 this year.
This years’ targeted municipal budget is about $91 million, up $3,246,480 from the 2018 budget. The projected municipal tax levy is up by $175,478 from $55 million in 2018.
The library tax levy, which is based by law on population and the tax base, is up $164,275 from $2.4 million in 2018.
The school district announced a preliminary $127.7 million budget on Feb. 18 as well. The tax levy presented was a $3.4 million increase from the $118.26 million 2018 tax levy.
Padmaja Rao, Chief Financial Officer, and Bob Benecke, township financial consultant, presented an overview of the 2019 municipal budget to council members on Feb. 18.
Since 2011, the township’s debt has declined from $223 million to $166 million this year, which has created a AAA rating by Standard and Poor for the town.
The town went into 2019 with a fund balance of $14 million, of which $7 million in surplus will be applied to the budget and to reduce debt, said Benecke. The town also carries the school district’s capital improvement debt, which includes the newly approved $4,859,950 bond for school repairs, including the stairwells at the high school.
Expected expenditures include a bill from the state to the state pension system of $1,079,683 for years 2016-19 following negotiation settlements with police and firefighters. This amount eats up 40 percent of the $2.5 million budget cap, but will be paid through surplus funds, Benecke said. Municipal pension obligations are at $254,953. Ten firefighters are expected to retire in 2019, as well.
The town has seen an increase in the tax base by $20 million, and Benecke credited “the clearance of these developments” with increasing the tax base.
PILOTs — what developers pay in lieu of taxes — exceed $3 million, with most being nonresidential, said Benecke.
DEPARTMENT HEADS SPEAK ON FUNDING
Some department heads also gave a rundown of their expenses.
Fire chief John Herrmann discussed the department’s purchase of two new engines, new breathing apparatus and jaws-of-life extrication devices, paying for 20,000 hours of training and the increase of inspections. In 2018, the 88 personnel fire department made 2,371 runs and responded to 74 structure fires and conducted about 2,000 inspections.
This year’s budget increase includes $750,000 for overtime needed for the loss of the 10 firefighters retiring, $56,000 in other expenses.
In the future, the department will need to upgrade Station 3, and two more fire engines will need replacing.
Police chief Tom Conforti told the council that 2018 brought an decrease in crime, accreditation of the department and increase in community policing. New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police accreditation requires police departments to adopt standards that have a clear statement of professional objectives. As part of the process, the department reviewed all of its policies and procedures, and made necessary revisions.
A new system was also implemented with a software to help in crime analysis and crime patterns. The department also saw an increase in officers assigned to traffic.
The department would like to see funding to continue to grow its community policing and accreditation, to place decoy cars as a deterrent to speeders, and increase police presence at town-wide events. This year, the police department is funding software licenses of $100,000. They are seeking an increase of $60,500 in other expenses.
Gary Obszarny, director of water and sewer departments and the parking authority, said that revenues are down in water department due to an increase in rain. The department is contracted to pay the water commission for water allocation whether property owners use it or not. The town will need to replace $1 million in water mains. Pumps that need replacing will cost $89,000 each, four valves at $10,000 will need replacing and large water main replacements will cost $2.6 million overall. In the future, the state is requiring more water and pipe testing, which will increase costs.
Sewer lines on Bloomfield Avenue have been replaced. Orange Road and Watchung Avenue sewer lines are still an issue and will need replacing, said Obszarny.
As for parking, Obszarny said revenues are up, but money is needed to fund maintenance as structural and drainage problems need addressing, according to three engineer reports commissioned. New signage and gates are scheduled to be installed. He admitted that residents were unhappy with the waitlist for permitted spots, with waitlists numbering up to three times the number of spots the town offers at some decks, especially at the Bay Street deck.
“If two more parking decks are built, I will fill them up tomorrow,” said Obszarny.
Each deck has about $500,000 in needed drainage, structural or electrical work, Obszarny said.
Two new parking enforcement vehicles are in need of replacing. Repaving and lighting upgrades to LED lights are also needed.
“Keeping a balance of [fees] and costs to keep up the decks is where we want to be,” said Obszarny, adding that parking fees are not covering maintenance and the safety enforcement needed for the decks.
This year will be the first year that surplus funds raised through the parking fees will stay with the parking authority. In years’ past it went into the townships’ general operating fund. That could equate to $2 million, according to Mayor Robert Jackson.
Susan Portuese, health department director, discussed the initiative on lead the department implemented in 2018. The department has two lead analyzers that test lead in paint and objects such as toys, spices and makeup. In 2018, the department saw 31 cases of high lead levels in children.
The senior bus provided 6,118 rides to seniors in 2018, an 146 percent increase from 2017.
Animal services adopted out 406 animals and reunited 58 animals with their families.
The department also received a $10,000 Farm Corp. to provide 16 garden beds to residents wanting to grow their own vegetables adding to the department’s efforts to encourage nutritional food alternatives.
The department is planning on installing bike repair stations at the Crescent and Bay Street decks.