The Union County Citizen's Budget Review Committee, which was formed under the umbrella of the Union County Watchdog Association, will conduct a town hall forum on the budget to be held on March 31, 2010 to begin at 7 pm at the Cranford Municipal Building council chambers, located at 8 Springfield Avenue in Cranford. The Westfield Leader/Scotch Plains Times will moderate a panel discussion. County and state officials and public members will be invited to participate. The forum will be video recorded by Cranford's cable station and distributed to all local cable access stations in Union County. It will also be posted on the internet. The public is urged to attend, no reservations are necessary.
The cost of New Jersey government is bankrupting its citizens and the full brunt of retiree health and benefit costs have yet to even be translated into a tax impact. The state, with an annualized deficit approaching $10 billion, is slashing costs indiscriminately and local municipalities are instituting furloughs and cutting services as they try to balance their budgets. But are they the right cuts?
Local to Union County a group of residents, unaffiliated with any political party or special interest other than the taxpayer, took it upon themselves to study the 2010 Union County budget in detail to understand better where the money comes from, where it goes, and what items possibly could be addressed to ameliorate the county tax impact.
This review was limited to revenue and expense items. Subsequent studies will look at personnel and the debt burden. The committee consisting of John Bury (pension actuary), Peter Scull (manager), Bruce Paterson (cost engineer and estimator) and Tina Renna, (marketing and advertising), made recommendations based on what they found in the 2010 Union County budget and proposed changes.
Findings: Taxes up 4.4% to $276,656,170 which is barely under the cap; Surplus anticipated goes up to $24,000,000 from $18,500,000; General Revenues excluding grants and surplus are, oddly, anticipated to go up by 2.1% to $148,521,629 in a recession; Total appropriations rose to $469,948,411 with spikes in pension and insurance costs.
Recommendations: Elimination of all lobbying services; Musicfest and the expansion plans for Galloping Hill golf course; Substantial cutback in budgets for legal services, insurance costs, refreshments (total elimination of catering of freeholder meetings), county cars, blackberries, home internet service, cell phones, goose control, marketing consulting, and the UC Alliance Directions newsletter; curtail the Open Space tax for 2010 saving an estimated $11.5 million which would offset the entire proposed tax increase.
The committee urges that all taxpayers, including residents and elected officials at every layer of government, become more involved in Union County government operations and that county government become more transparent and responsive to the residents. Several verbal requests for information during public meetings resulted in the freeholder chairman instructing committee members to place Open Public Records Act Requests (OPRA); many of the OPRA requests were returned "no documents to provide".
Committee chairman, John Bury, explained "This report is designed to give you some of the tools you need to know what your government is doing. Everyone has different perspectives and may come to other conclusions but certainly can add value and feedback to this analysis. It is up to you to get further involved."