BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ The reason for the Bernards Township Committee to continue meetings at 3 p.m. _ instead of the usual meeting time at 8 p.m. _ was questioned at last week's virtual meeting, but township officials said that the earlier time will continue until at least until a scheduled public hearing and final vote on a proposed $41.9-million 2020 municipal budget on Tuesday, April 28.

Budget public hearing already set for 3 p.m. on April 28

The proposed budget was introduced at the March 24 Bernards Township Committee meeting, and already has been advertised for a public hearing at 3 p.m. on April 28, township officials said.

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The proposed municipal budget will raise the municipal tax portion of local property taxes by $26.36 on the "average" home assessed at $611,873 if approved by the Township Committee on April 28, according to the March 24 budget presentation and figures posted on the Bernards Township website. The anticipated new tax rate to support the municipal budget, which would be 30.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value, is 14.64 percent of the total estimated property tax rate of $2.11 per $100 of assessed property value.

At the April 14 Township Committee meeting, held via Zoom Video Conferencing and televised and also livestreamed on the township website, resident Todd Edelstein filed a question during the virtual public comment section asking why it is necessary to continue to hold meetings at 3 p.m. instead of the usual time of 8 p.m. The earlier time narrows down viewership, he said in a comment read during the meeting by the township clerk.

Initially, the time for the March 24 was moved from the usual 8 p.m. to 3 p.m. as increasingly strict steps were taken to shutdown social gatherings to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus last month. 

While other public meetings at town hall were canceled, the Township Committee intended to hold its meeting in public. However, the time for that meeting was moved to 3 p.m. when Gov. Murphy issued a call for an 8 p.m. curfew prior to a more complete shutdown.

By the time the meeting was held however, all public gatherings were being called off, and the first virtual Township Committee meeting was set up for 3 p.m. on the actual date, including the budget introduction.

For the future, however, Township Committeeman John Carpenter observed, "I don't see why we can't move it back to the regular time."