By Jaimie Julia Winters
Residents will not see a tax increase in their municipal tax bill for 2019.
The introduced $91,112,587 municipal budget carries the same tax rate as last year at $0.783 per $100 of the assessed property value. A home assessed at $600,000 will have a $4,698 municipal tax bill.
This year’s municipal budget is up $3,631,157 from the 2018 budget. The projected municipal tax levy is $58,379,393. Last year the tax levy was $55,993,474.
New development has increased the tax base by $20 million.
PILOTs — what developers pay in lieu of taxes — exceed $3 million, with most being nonresidential, said township financial advisor Bob Benecke.
The library tax levy, which is based by law on population and the tax base, is up from $2.4 million in 2018 to $2,6 million this year. State aid is expected to remain flat at $2,967,066.
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 tax levy a year ago.
Since 2012, the township’s debt has declined from $223 million to $166 million this year, which has created a AAA rating for the town by Standard and Poor’s.
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.
The biggest line item increase in the 2019 budget is a retroactive pension increase of nearly $1.1 million for police and fire pensions 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.
Group health insurance rose from $6,500,000 to $6,738,500.
“The township has strong budget flexibility that speaks to being able to pay a $1,079,000 retroactive bill without injuring our tax credit,” said Benecke. “Credit rating companies like Standard & Poor’s especially hone in on budget flexibility and liquidity issues. This is one reason why the Township was able to obtain, and maintain, its AAA rating. By cutting our debt we increase our bond rating, reduce our carrying interest costs and we create a solid foundation to our fiscal situation as well as to the budget,” said Benecke.
Public safety is allocated 30 percent of total tax dollars (police and fire operations); 15 percent goes to health and liability insurance, reserves for retiree payouts and uncollected taxes; 9 percent goes toward employee pension costs. Municipal debt service accounts for 11 percent of tax dollars and school debt service accounts for nine percent. Montclair is a Type 1 school district, which means the township is required to service school debt.
Public works receives 10 percent, while 9 percent goes to all other departments including health, recreation, legal, finance, information technology, human resources, planning and zoning and the manager’s office. The public library receives 4 percent and 2 percent goes toward utility costs such as electricity, gas and telephone.
The budget provides for replacement of police officers and 10 firefighters who are set to retire in 2019. The number of school crossing guards will increase by 10 to 60 total.
The Police Department budget includes $112,000 allocated for software licenses alone. The department recently achieved accreditation from the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police, which acknowledges that the department’s policies and procedures are conceptually sound and operationally effective. Continual review of policies as well as the training necessary to keep the department at the level required for accreditation status is funded in the 2019 budget.
Capital funding includes the acquisition of police vehicles, Segways, traffic control apparatus and other equipment required for public safety and community engagement. The township will also purchase and install additional rectangular rapid flashing beacons to improve pedestrian safety at intersections.
An ambulance will be replaced at $106,000.
The 2019 budget includes new initiatives, such as AI-powered video analytics software for video cameras to provide real-time analysis for active and post-event investigations with annual subscription of $38,500. This technology will significantly enhance speed, accuracy and coordination of response among police, fire and ambulance units.
The Township is now partnering with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), a nationwide, broadband network that equips first responders to save lives and protect communities.
New records management software is being implemented for the fire department. Police implementation took place last year. The software will enable first responders to access more comprehensive information much more quickly.
PUBLIC WORKS, CODE ENFORCEMENT, BUILDING DEPARTMENT
The township introduced a $6.9 million capital bond ordinance that in 2019 will fund approximately 10 miles of road paving and curbing, park and playground renovations as well as equipment and vehicle purchases.
Investments in parks and playgrounds continue to be a priority – 2019 will see continued work in Mountainside and Yantacaw Brook parks, along with new improvements to Tuers Park and its playground. Green Acres grants are being sought to upgrade several other parks and playgrounds throughout town.
The Department of Community Services will see a $500,000 increase in its budget which will include the addition of a full-time employee in the uniform construction code division to further accelerate permitting operations.
The department’s budget increases are driven mainly by trash and recycling expenses, including increased solid waste tipping fees. Dump Fees increased from $1,260,000 to $1,450,000. The township installed additional Bigbelly smart bins in all the business districts towards the end of 2018. The additional bins require greater annual maintenance fees.
The 2019 budget also includes funding to maintain $1 million in reserve for storm recovery efforts.
Code Enforcement inspectors are currently training to become authorized to carry out field inspections of hotels and multi-family dwellings.
HEALTH, NURSING, ANIMAL
The Health Department is aggressively is adding two part-time nurses to help with lead screening, case management and environmental investigation efforts.
The department will further enhance its screenings and programming. This will include initiatives to train preschool staff on immunization regulations and communicable disease, provide classes to school nurses on immunizations and outbreak control in schools, offer education on protecting adolescents from HPV and other important health programming.
Programs for the Division of Senior Services/Lifelong Montclair will include an intergenerational story slam, partnerships in the community to expand Montclair Institute for Lifelong Learning (MILL) offerings and a public-facing awareness campaign during Older Americans Month (May).
Montclair Township Animal Shelter funding was increased to include an additional full-time animal control officer, along with two additional part-time kennel attendants.
Other shelter initiatives for 2019 include enhancing the trap-neuter-release (TNR) program for homeless and feral cats, training for animal control officers, education programs on animal sheltering, such as an “Ask an Animal Control Officer” public session.
Four million dollars has been budgeted to replace slip lines and aging water and sewer mains, and to refurbish pumps. Increased staffing will oversee these initiatives and enhance overall operations of all three divisions, Water, Sewer and Parking. Funding is also earmarked to purchase new trucks and other equipment.
The 2019 budget also includes funding for license plate recognition technology for parking utility permit enforcement.
Budgets by departments
2018 2019 Change (%)
Government personnel $3,018,679.00 $2,832,517.00 -6.17%
(i.e. mayor, council, clerk, manager)
Finance Department $1,260,621.00 $1,187,659.29 -5.79%
Planning/Community Devel. $450,355.00 $456,799.00 +1.43%
Admin. & Code Enforcement $604,921.00 $650,908.00 +7.60%
Police Department $15,585,355.00 $15,751,661.00 +1.07%
Fire Department: $10,919,751.00 $10,714,164.00 -1.88%
Community Services $5,005,806.00 $5,513,277.00 +10.14%
Recreation & Cultural Affairs $681,799.00 $705,008.00 +3.40%
Health & Human Services $1,661,229.80 $1,764,764.00 +6.23%