BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Bernards Township's new police chief, along with a new recruit on the police force, are scheduled to be be sworn in at Tuesday's Township Committee meeting. A public hearing on the proposed $19.9-million municipal budget for 2018 is scheduled for the same night.

Tuesday meeting scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

The April 10 Township Committee meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., an hour earlier than usual, in the main meeting room at the Bernards town hall at 1 Collyer Lane in downtown Basking Ridge.

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The evening will begin with the swearing In ceremony for the township's new police chief, Michael Shimsky, to replace Chief Brian Bobowicz, who retired this year.  

Shimsky already was appointed as acting police chief in January, after Bobowicz ended his time on the job on Dec. 31. However, due to paid leave time, the former chief officially remained in that position until his retirement became effective on April 1, township officials said.

Shimsky previously had been appointed deputy chief in January 2017, in anticipation of Bobowicz's retirement following more than 30 years with the township police force.

While a member of the police force, Shimsky also had served as the township's Office of Emergency Management (OEM) coordinator for a decade. In that role, he helped guide the township through its response to Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Shimsky's salary as the new police chief will be $163,000, effective April 1, according to Terri Johnson, the township's Chief Financial Officer. 

The new chief's promotion and Bobowicz's retirement resulted in the March 13 hiring of a new patrol officer, Dominick Aboosamara, who also is due to be sworn in on Tuesday.

Additional members of the police department will be moved up in rank as a result of the changes. Those promotions, which are on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting, include Deputy Chief Michael Voorhees; Captain Mark Leopold; Lt. Jon Burger; Sergeant Timothy King, Corporal Steven Matthews, Corporal Alexander McKnight, Corporal Raymond Gizienski, Corporal Robert Herndon, OEM Coordinator Christopher Hurst, and OEM Deputy Coordinator John Neiman, in their new jobs.

Public hearing and final vote on municipal budget including more road work and 'infrastructure' spending

The proposed 2018 Bernards Township municipal budget, which overall reduces the local municipal tax rate by a tenth of a penny will be up for public comment and possible adoption by the Township Committee. The budget was introduced  by the Township Committee in March, on the same night the committee approved appropriating $1.42-million of already budgeted funds for long-term projects such as sidewalk and bikeway improvements, road department equipment, and a pedestrian safety study.

Prior to the budget overview earlier this winter, Johnson said that many road and capital improvement investments had been held off in previous years in anticipation of the end of the township open space tax at the end of 2017. That 4-cent addition to the local property tax had helped preserve about 20 percent of the township as open space, officials said in a previous report. 

With the end of the open space tax, the proposed budget totals $19,924.291.84, a slight reduction from $19,967,477.38 in 2017, according to township figures.

Despite the increases in spending on larger projects, the proposed 2018 budget, if approved, would result in a municipal tax rate of 29.3 cents this year, down from the 29.4 cents per $100 of assessed property value in 2017.

"This is the first budget that transfers focus from open space to infrastructure...focus(ing) on projects put off for the last few years," Johnson said at the budget overview in February. Much of the increase is for road improvements, as well as for the replacement of crumbling pedestrian bridges, according to township officials.

The proposed 2018 budget would increase the municipality's capital expenditure budget by $2.5 million in this year "in an effort to maintain our aging infrastructure, primarily the roads," Johnson said in an email. 

The budget also includes funding to replace pedestrian bridges on Lyons and Stonehouse roads and Southard Park that were closed due to structural defects, Johnson said previously.

Proposed municipal budget posted online

Overall, the proposed budget -- which is posted on the Bernards Township website -- shows a 15 percent increase in capital expenditures for major projects around town from the previous year.

The proposed budget sets aside an additional $1.1 million for roadway management, $600,000 for pedestrian bridge costs, $750,000 for rescue equipment for emergency responders, and $20,000 to address pedestrian safety on Allen Road in The Hills. The total budget for road projects, not including some related expenses in other accounts, is proposed at $3.15 million for this year, Johnson added after the meeting.

Members of public say tax rate should go down due to end of open space tax

During public comment periods at previous meetings where the municipal budget was discussed, some members of the public said the township should have reduced the municipal tax rate to reflect the end of the open space tax.

Al LiCata, who previously served on the Township Committee, said the public had been told that the tax rate would go down when it was determined that the additional open space tax was no longer needed. He said that the additional expenditures for capital projects were "packaged well" to avoid telling residents they would be paying more than previously toward regular budget expenses.

 "This will be one of the largest tax increases under GOP leadership," LiCata told the Township Committee on March 27.

Previously, resident Todd Edelstein had told officials "It's kind of a big shell game," also noting that the township's 2018 budget does not reflect the end of the 4-cent open space tax.

'Responsible budget'

"I'm proud of our budget. It's a responsible budget," Mayor John Carpenter said at the March 27 meeting, adding that the township is still operating under a 2-percent state budget cap.

The just-under $40 million budget includes $15 million in reserve funds, he said. Township officials have repeatedly said that the municipality is debt free, and operates by budgeting up front for major expenses rather than borrowing funds and incurring interest payments.

The municipal budget makes up less than 15 percent of a property owner's total property tax bill, according to township figures.

Estimated increase on overall property tax bill on average township home

If the township's estimates are accurate for anticipated school and county tax levies, the property tax bill on the average Bernards Township house will increase from $12,479.34 in 2017 to $12,620.27 for 2018, according to township figures.