October 6, 2013 at 4:42 PM
WEST ORANGE, NJ - At the October 1 Town Council Meeting, the council voted to require the West Orange First Aid Squad to competitively bid for their contract with the township; clarified issues on the budget increase; and moved to transition the West Orange Energy Commission into the West Orange Environmental Commission.
In existence for 50 years, the West Orange First Aid Squad recently switched to third party billing to retain billing revenues. The West Orange Fire Department, who works in concert with WOFAS to provide emergency services to the township, provides revenues directly to the township. As a result of the switch, town administrators, after research and discussion, felt that it was necessary to ask WOFAS to competetively bid on the EMS contract. This means that other agencies will be able to bid as well.
However, Town administration made it clear that utilizing a competetive bid process was the best option for WOFAS, because factors like township experience could be factored into a final selection, even if their bid was not the lowest. Had the township gone to a sealed bid process, they would be constrained to select the lowest bidder, regardless of who it was.
In a lengthy information session with James Troisi, President of WOFAS, Troisi and council, along with Town administrator Jack Sayers, Attorney Ken Kayser, and CFO John Gross, concerns and disagreements were discussed. Troisi said WOFAS would agree to bid competitively if the council voted in favor of it. The council voted in favor of competetive bidding, Councilwoman Patty Spango abstaining. Councilman Krakoviak voted no, stating:
"I’m not convinced that we need to go to competitive contracting. I’m persuaded by the concern of Mr. Troisi and his opposition to this. The administration’s vision of EMS in town going forward is not clear enough to me to give me comfort that the (West Orange) First Aid Squad would continue its 50 years of service to the community."
Another lengthy discussion regarding clarifications for the figures in the municipal budget increase ensued between Councilman Krakoviak and town administration. On September 17, the $73 million municipal budget was approved for 2013. The tax levy percentage is now 1.47% as compared to last year's 0%. According to Gross, township calculates the levy by the assessed value of homeowners' property value. With property tax appeals, some residents will see a reduction in their taxes and the rest will see an increase, with most increases in the general area of $61 per year. Gross continued by noting the new tax rate of 0.921% for 2013, up from last year's 0.899%
In an email to the Alternative Press, Councilman Krakoviak provided the following information as well:
"The municipal tax rate for virtually all West Orange property owners will go up 2.47% this year. This is the 2013 municipal tax increase. But the taxes for those property owners not benefiting from a successful tax appeal will go up more because our tax base continues to decline and thus produces less revenue at the same tax rate. Tax revenue, and thus the tax rate, must go up a full percentage point more to produce the needed increase in the tax levy this year. The 2013 total tax rate increase including county taxes and the two open space taxes is 2.89%."
The township cited union settlements as the reason for the increase, but Councilman Krakoviak, who voted against the budget, cited the township's not reducing spending to reflect the decline in the tax base.
In other news, the council unanimously voted to provide special handicapped parking areas for certain town residents; and voted on First Reading to establish the Energy Commission as an Environmental Commission, allowing the commission to apply for environmental grant monies, among other duties
(Editor's Note: This article was updated on October 10 with additional information provided by Councilman Krakoviak.)