WEST ORANGE, NJ - A fairly uneventful West Orange Township Council meeting on April 22 was enlivened by a discussion of the West Orange Jitney service towards meeting's end.
After Chief Financial Officer John Gross read Resolution 81-14, Resolution to Amend Introduced Budget, Councilman Joe Krakoviak raised the issue of the West Orange Jitney service. He said that he wanted the "township to take a look at the costs and see what they could do to reduce those costs." To do so, he wants the administration to provide that information and a comparison of jitney operations in surrounding towns prior to the final budget vote on May 6.
"The bottom line to that is that we can certainly compile that information to see what the expense is to the township," said McCartney, "but I think what you're trying to get at is that are we going to charge the residents to use the jitney?"
"Yes, that would be one way to do it," said Krakoviak.
McCartney noted that neither the administration nor the other members of the council were in favor of charging for jitney services.
According to Township Administrator Jack Sayers, the jitneys are used to bus West Orange commuters to the train station in the morning and evening and provide transportation for senior citizens during the day. There has never been a charge for the jitney service, though surrounding towns like Montclair, Glen Ridge, Maplewood, and Livingston do charge for theirs. Chief Financial Officer John Gross added that if the township wanted to charge for jitney service, it would place the service under the authority of the Department of Transportation, most likely increasing the maintenance and compliance costs and negating the purpose of the fees.
"I commend the councilman for looking at alternatives for revenue sources," said Councilman Victor Cirilo. "We're introducing a budget with no increase and if we can afford it without raising taxes, why not...it's one of our most popular services. Families move here to West Orange because of this service."
"I can't force you to consider this," said Krakoviak, "and that's your decision. But to me I think we need to take a look at the numbers and implications in order to know what the potential net costs might be...let's look at the numbers and see if it's something we want to charge for".
"I would like to see those numbers, but not necessarily in the next two weeks," said McCartney. "And if we're providing a service with a zero percent increase, that's a good thing". She did not oppose Krakoviak's request for the study from the administration.
"Taxpayers complain about their property taxes. But we're giving them something back to cut their commuting costs," said Councilman Jerry Guarino. "It supports the community; it makes the community viable; and it improves the quality of life in West Orange".
Diasagreeing with Krakoviak, Councilwoman Patty Spango questioned the need to do a study if the rest of the council did not support charging for the jitney. "It's an amenity we offer. The taxes are high but it's a selling point. West Orange real estate is doing much better, and this is a selling point".
"How can you quantify the the effects on the real estate market and property values?" said Cirilo. The jitney is a additional benefit that is not quantifiable".
The discussion continued on the West Orange Jitney Facebook page, where Mayor Robert Parisi told the group "the Administration has no intention of charging for Jitney service at this time. From the onset of the Jitney program, and as I assured riders when we met at Roosevelt over a year ago, I believe the Jitney service provides a valuable, intangible benefit to our Community and one that we are committed to funding now and into the future...and eventually expanding further. It is our hope that the program will continue to evolve and improve, and we hope that the riders are enjoying the new buses, but we have no plans to charge riders or to even consider it".
In other news, Councilman Krakoviak informed the administration prior to the jitney discussion that he would be voting no to Resolution 81-14 and the 2014 Municipal budget, saying, that despite the 0% increase in municipal taxes, "I'm voting against this because I don't think the budget is as lean as it could be".
On First reading Ordinances, 4-1 votes on all three, Krakoviak voted no to a bond to cover sanitary sewer costs in Llewelyn Park (other council members have requested information prior Second Reading), a bond for township road improvements and bleachers at the baseball field at West Orange High School.