MADISON, NJ – A sparsely attended Town Hall meeting for the 2014 budget, held Saturday morning, Feb. 1, still resulted in some probing questions and observations.
Assistant Borough Administrator Jim Burnet described the electric utility and how revenues and expenses have varied between actual numbers for 2006 and estimates for 2013 to 2015. Another chart showed capital and operating transfers from 1997 to 2013. The revised 2014 municipal budget shows a summary of revenues of $29,345,841, for a 14.26 percent change from 2013, or an increase of $3,663,434. Appropriations also reflect an increase of 14.26 percent.
Madison Mayor Robert Conley observed that the revenue from the electric utility will allow capital projects, such as infrastructure, to move forward. “There are a lot of elements and this is a good comfort level," Conley said.
Finance Chairman Ben Wolkowitz noted that a municipal budget is different than a person’s budget. “The only common aspect is money,” he said. “Everything else is different.”
In introducing "Budget 101," Wolkowitz said, “We need to understand what kind of Madison we want to live in.” He praised the police and fire departments and said the borough’s budget is capped at 2 percent. “We have little control over that,” he said of state regulations. Surpluses come from the electric utility, fees and permits as well as sale of property. “It’s too risky to plan on that,” Wolkowitz said of property sales. While Madison is a very appealing town, he said, residents who want to sell their homes on Belmont Avenue or Academy Street could face obstacles because of the condition of the roads. Both streets are scheduled to have road and curb work done in 2014.
“I believe there are no differences in the objectives among council members. It’s how quickly we can do these projects,” Wolkowitz said. “I’m inclined to take more risk, with no property tax increase. We can afford it.” Wolkowitz said last year there was a minor tax increase, but the reassessment, which was required by the state, caused taxes to go up. “It was worse than anticipated," he said. The councilman also urged providing a meaningful pool of money and a rebate to those who are on limited incomes, especially seniors and disabled residents.
The councilman distributed a paper with questions about municipal services, electric rates and budget priorities. It also included a comparison of services provided in Madison and the tax per person compared to nearby Chatham, Morris Township, Florham Park and Harding. Madison had the lowest rate and provided more services, including a senior center and van, leaf pickup, garbage, and sewer as well as the electric utility.
“This is a political paper,” said Councilman Patrick Rowe, who objected to such questions as preferring reliable power or a lower electric rate.
Conley said this is not the time to debate those issues as he wanted to move on to the public portion of the meeting. The mayor established ground rules and asked residents to respond to what they liked and didn’t like about Madison, what their priorities would be if they were serving on council and whether there were ideas for generating revenue or reducing expenses.
There were also concerns about keeping the downtown viable, eliminating leaf collection in favor of composting instead, and determining what municipal services could become self-sufficient.