BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Berkeley Heights Township Council passed the resolution to adopt the municipal budget at last week's meeting with appropriation and authorization of $11,595,813.35 for municipal purposes and $1,059,797 for a minimum liability levy.
Resident Tom Foregger addressed the Council during the Hearing on the Budget and asked many questions regarding specifics of the increases in the adopted budget.
Mayor Joe Bruno along with the council answered the line by line questioning by Foregger.
There has been an addition of part time temporary staff in the Finance Department, Sewer Department and DPW said Mayor Joe Bruno.
Increase in salaries include -- Tom McAndrew, Superintendent of Wastewater Treatment Plant is a new salary; Jorge Casacuberta, Assistant Director of Public Works is now a full year salary.
Part time office help was hired to work in the clerks office to handle the many OPRA requests said Bruno.
"We anticipate more legal challenges for the OPRA and things like that. It has gone up every year over the past two or three years," said Bruno.
"We have to assume that the OPRA demands are going to increase," said Councilman Kevin Hall.
"We are in the middle of a potential initiative with the library and Little Flower. I have reason to believe, as long as that exists, there will be continuing litigation, that was one of the considerations [for $100,000 legal fee budget]," said Councilman Bob Woodruff.
The overall budget is going up 3.5% over last year's level. This $456,412.18 increase will mean a tax boost of about $79 on the average township home assessed at $307,000, said Bruno at a previous council session.
"We have spent many evenings on the budget. The process is fair and open and everybody has the right to come down and take a look at what we do," said Bruno.
Resident Carol Matula addressed the council of her concern of decreased revenues. I think the council needs to understand that if the revenues are going to decrease then the tax payers are going to pay that portion said Matula.
"We have to look at alternative sources of revenues. As a council, we are. We are looking at grants and other opportunities to bring increased ratables to this town. You can not cut services and have your infrastructure go away. It is a delicate balance. Keeping the debt at a common level takes a lot of work," said Council President Jeanne Kingsley.
"I think it's a testimonial to this council that we keep the debt service the same. We have spent less money every year, taking more debt service off then we put back on," said Bruno. "This year, we are spending a lot of money towards the roads."
"There is always money to spend on improving our township. We do not do it willy nilly," said Bruno. "We try and keep the debt service even so you don't have the big spikes up and down. I think that is prudent planning."
"We are trying to take care of the issues at hand because they have not been taken care of for years. That is why we do what we do and spend the money that we spend," said Councilman Craig Pastore.
"Our 5-year capital plan addresses the fact that things need to be taken care of and it evens out the cost," said Pastore.
The council had promised to restore bulk pick-up and remediate the streams. The additional costs associated with the snow removal, salt and pot hole repairs were not anticipated last year and the expenses have already been paid to keep the streets clean.
The budget is a working document that we can't exceed said Bruno. "It's an open process. Nothing is being done that you don't know about."
"It's a budget that had a lot of thought put into it. Our CFO put a lot of work into it and I commend Mr. Marceau and Ms. Cavanaugh. Reworking the numbers and getting us to where we are. We have an approximate $79 increase on the average house, $7 library tax, $134 County tax and $234 from the school system," said Bruno.
Kingsley clarified in the Council Reports that during the debate it was mentioned that there would be three clocks in town. "This was Mayor Bruno's vision, however, the Beautification Committee is working on one clock and only one clock. This is the best way to enhance the look of the town and get the right support of the town," said Kingsley.
A resolution was passed to accept the donated labor, services and equipment for the installation of the four-faced clock at Peppertown Park by Rick Froio and Ed Perez of Interstate Electric Co., Jim Delia of Earthwork and Boulderscape Services, LLC, Joseph Franchino of JL Franchino, Inc., James Ramentol of GRA Architects, and Kevin Sullivan of Chestnut Tree Experts.
"Individuals that have paid to have their names on the clock are also adding their labor and assistance -- this is how the Beautification Committee has been as successful as it is. You get people in town appreciating what the end result is. It is saving the town substantial amount of dollars and I want to thank those individuals," said Woodruff.
Resident Gerald Kuzmik addressed the council during the Citizens Hearing to ask who was responsible for the maintenance of the library. During the heavy rain storm, the gutters were hanging off the roof and he asked who should be addressed about cleaning out the rain gutters and whose negligence is it.
The property belongs to the township and it is their responsibility to maintain said Bruno. Stephanie Bakos, Director of the Library, advised the council that recent tree work caused a leader to disconnect and caused that water issue. She further advised that the library roof, leaders and gutters are scheduled for replacement in the near future.
Kuzmik voiced his concern that items discussed at council meetings do not receive proper follow-up. He referenced the storm drain cleaning at the corner of Springfield and Plainfield as well as the State grant reward for the Passaic River clean-up.
"Water run off on the corner of Springfield and Plainfield -- who will take the bull by the horn? Because it is still not clean. These are things that we talked about in the past. After two months, we need action."
The street corner in question are county roads and follow-up has been made said Bob Boccino, Director of Public Works.
Kuzmik also requested an update on the flooding issue between the surrounding towns and the State Grant reward for the Passaic River Clean-up. "What is the progress of the dialog with the towns? What is the feedback on getting the progress of the clean-up?"
"Until we have confirmation that the money is available, it is difficult for everyone to get together to come up with an action plan because we don't have the timing of when we will get the money," said Hall.
"There is active dialog with Amy Wagner with the County. The County is communicating with the DEP. There is feedback," said Hall. "It is frustrating because it is a priority for us and we want to move forward."
"This money is coming from the State of New Jersey. They have not adapted their budget yet. The money is not there yet. We won't get the money until the budget is adopted," said Bruno.