West Orange 2014 Municipal Budget Approved Amid Controversy

Credits: Cynthia Cumming

WEST ORANGE, NJ - The West Orange Township Council approved the amended 2014 Municipal Budget by a vote of 4-1 on Tuesday. The budget includes a zero percent increase in the taxy levy. Councilman Joe Krakoviak, however, insisted the tax rate would create a $36 increase in the average taxpayer’s bill.

Council members Victor Cirilo, Patty Spango and Jerry Guarino were pleased about the zero percent increase.

“I am proud as a councilperson to have put forth a municipal budget with a zero percent increase,” said Spango. “We deliberately wanted to keep costs down and continue to maintain the quality of life in West Orange and provide the services our residents deserve.”

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“The budget includes capital expenditures to perform the necessary upgrades and safety improvements to our municipal and recreational facilities which are in dire need of replacement and or repairs. Many of these upgrades and repairs have been put on hold for more than four years,” said Guarino.

He continued, “The 2014 budget reflects a zero increase in your annual tax bill while maintaining the current level of outstanding services provided to all of our residents. There is no ‘fat’ in this budget and all of its requested items are only what is needed to enhance the ability of the township to better serve the public.”

Cirilo echoed those sentiments, saying, “I commend Mayor Parisi for once again presenting the Town Council a budget with a zero percent tax increase. We must now protect our quality services in order to maintain and improve our property values.”

Prior to the amended budget vote, Krakoviak set up an easel and posters to present his take on the tax rate and how it would increase taxes. The town council was voting on the municipal budget, which affects only the tax levy and is unrelated to the tax rate, a fluctuating number based on assessed values. His presentation was met with objections by both Jack Sayers and Chief Financial Officer John Gross, who asked why he did not discuss his presentation with them prior to the meeting.

Krakoviak said, “I’m disappointed that the mayor and council majority tout the 2014 municipal budget as “no-tax-increase” when the budget document clearly and irrefutably shows that property owners in West Orange will pay higher municipal taxes this year. This budget also increases the town’s outstanding debt by more than 11% to what is likely a historical high of nearly $71 million – with as much as $3.5 million more on the way later this year – and a significant increase in spending to service this debt.”

He also said, “If the council majority didn't want taxes, as represented by the tax rate, to rise, it could reduce the levy to match the decline in the tax base. That's what I suggested we do.”

Council President Susan McCartney replied, “the municipal budget reflects Mayor Parisi's Administration's commitment to stabilize the Township's tax levy with a zero-percent tax increase. The Council was able to approve recommendations to promote employees, adjust salaries accurate to job titles and responsibilities and to also include a capital improvement budget.  The Administration is to be commended for presenting a clean, efficient budget that includes long-term goals and objectives that comply with the State's Division of Local Government Services' Best Practices Inventory.”

McCartney continued, “Unfortunately, the Council vote was yet again 4-1, because Councilman Krakoviak took it upon himself to unnecessarily dissect the municipal budget exclaiming an increase in the Township's tax rate.  The definition of such an equalization tax rate as presented by Krakoviak  is a ratio of total assessed value for properties in a community to those property's true market values. This number represents the state or local judgment of how closely assessed values match the market value. This is clearly not what was before the Council nor within the Council's purview and control.” 

She concluded her comments by saying “…Tax Fact:  The municipal budget adopted by the Council maintains spending and Township services WITHOUT raising the municipal tax portion for 2014.”

For his part, Mayor Robert Parisi put forth a 73.3 million dollar budget with the following components: “to stabilize municipal taxes; continue to provide quality services to the community; and insure that the services being provided remain efficient and affordable.”

Budget highlights included the negotiation of a zero percent (0%) and minus one (-1%) increase for employee medical insurance; employee health insurance contributions greater than those required of public employees by the State of N.J.; reduction of trash removal and recycling tipping fees by nearly $800,000 since 2009; cutback of non-recurring revenue budget items, and no capital budget for three (3) years in a row.

The 2014 budget does contain funding for capital improvement projects as well as funding necessary to cover contractual employee obligations for collective bargaining agreements.

“I am proud to have produced our fourth budget in five years with no municipal tax increase and I am happy to have met our budgetary goals. My Administration is committed to stabilizing municipal taxes by delivering quality services to our community in the most efficient and affordable manner,” Parisi said.

After the budget vote, Krakoviak voted no to Resolution 87-14 to appropriate emergency funding to cover the cost of the snow removal during the winter; voted no to Second ordinance 24017-14, to approve a 6.7 million bond for capital improvements including road resurfacing; voted no to 2408-14 to approve a $55,000 bond to replace old bleachers at West Orange High School; and voted no on 2409-14, to approve an amended bond ordinance to redo the sewer system in Lllewelyn Park. Llewelyn Park residents would repay all but $500,000 of the bond, which the town would cover for public sewer lines.



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