Yet again we are faced with a budget increase that, while may not have been totally avoidable, should have been lower than is presented here today. Yes, we have pressures that are pushing our taxes higher. Tax refunds have been and continue to be a factor in tax increases. And yes, we have shrinking revenues due to the decrease in assessed values. As Ms. Meade stated, even with no change in the proposed property tax levy, the 2014 tax rate would increase by 0.82%, or $21.47 for the average homeowner, due to changes in assessed values. Our revenues are declining at a higher rate than the reduction in total appropriations.
To have kept the property taxes at the same level as last year – at least the municipal portion of it - we would have needed to remove approximately $2 million in the 2014 appropriations. During our budget meetings, we made the important decision to attempt to hold the line where we could while still ensuring that the citizens of Livingston enjoyed the same level of services.
Unfortunately, my fellow councilmen and I did NOT agree as to items where we could make reductions in budget cost without impacting the taxpayer. As such, there are three reasons why I cannot in good conscience vote for this budget. First, there is a $124,000 line item in the budget for the shuttle. While I have stated time and again how wonderful I believe the shuttle is for Livingston, I am also opposed to having the taxpayers at large pay for a service that at most, at this time, benefits approximately 60 riders out of 29,000 residents. To get this appropriation off the budget in total would require an increase in the fare of 50 cents per ride. I could not get agreement from my fellow councilmen to get this done. The Township has been supporting this endeavor now for over 18 months and the riders who utilize it love it. That’s great! But pay for it as well. I do not believe that by raising the fee by 50 cents a ride we will be tolling the death knell for this endeavor.
Second, and a much bigger impact, is the Livingston Library surplus. Based on unaudited numbers and to the best of the recollection of the Library Board, there was approximately $800,000 in surplus funds in the Library budget as of the end of 2012. Livingston funds the Library at approximately $933,000 over and above the base appropriation required by law. And, the Library being such an integral part of this community should be given additional funds to allow it to continue to be a shining jewel in Livingston’s crown. However, I do not believe that we should fund such a large surplus and did not believe that this issue should have been pushed off another year. Another year is a year that Livingston taxpayers are footing a bill that they might not have had to if we had gotten this issue resolved now. In plain English, we should not be funding something that is going to sit in their bank account; I’d rather it stays in the taxpayers’ pocket.
Finally, we continue to increase our hiring at a time when we should be looking to actually either decrease headcount or increase usage of part time and per diem personnel. Every new full time employee is another employee with benefits and pension. Those costs continue to rise at a rapid rate. In a meeting with another township manager, his attitude was one of trying to outsource as much as possible as this was both a more flexible approach, that is, can add and subtract personnel as needed, as well as a more cost effective approach.
Given these items, I cannot approve this budget. And, given these items, I am not sure how my fellow councilmen in good judgment can. I vote NO.
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