BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - After a long, grueling budget season the Berkeley Heights Township Council voted to introduce the 2010 budget on Tuesday night, just days after negotiating with the PBA and white collar union workers to save two police officer jobs in the town. The budget's total is $16.8 million and is $78,000 under the maximum tax cap levy. This is a 9.1 percent increase from the previous year and will cost the average homeowner in Berkeley Heights an additional $152.50 in taxes. Every council member voted for the budget's introduction except for Councilman John Bonacci, who voted no because the current budget includes the layoff of a licensed sewer worker in town.
Just a few weeks ago the town council was discussing the possibility of laying off six township employees to get the budget under the maximum tax cap levy. However, a meeting with the PBA and union workers on Tuesday afternoon changed all of that. The town saved over $200,000 after the negotiations were complete and two police officers' jobs were saved as a five-year contract was put in place.
Under the contract, the police officers will see a 0 percent pay increase in 2010, a 1.5 percent increase in 2011 and a 3 percent increase in the two following years. The PBA also agreed to change their health benefit plan so as to cost the town less money, and agreed to receive regular pay for working overtime hours. The contract was signed at Tuesday's meeting by Mayor Robert Woodruff and Berkeley Heights PBA President Detective Billy Ives.
"This was like the perfect storm...An exchange took place...to ensure the police officers are well served in their obligations," Mayor Robert Woodruff said. He continued, saying that during the meeting everyone knew what the primary focus was: to help the residents of the town. Woodruff mentioned that this budget was the best one the council could pass under the circumstances and that the town will be more prepared to make better financial decisions within the budget in future years.
Councilman Joseph Bruno also thanked the police officers for their dedication to serving Berkeley Heights, as well as other departments in the town that had to deal with significant cuts for the budget to come under the tax levy. "A lot of people gave in this budget because they cared. The employees that we have help this town function." He also mentioned that several other departments will also be on new medical and healthcare plans.
Union representative Michael Broderick, who expressed concern to the council at a meeting a few weeks ago when there were plans to lay off two police officers, was also impressed with the way the town council resolved their issues and planned to pass a responsible budget. He said that there were active negotiations with the PBA and everyone stepped up and made sacrifices.
Councilman Bonacci, who voted no on the budget's introduction, said that it was the worst budget that council had introduced in four years. He mentioned that laying off a licensed sewer worker will actually cost the town more money in the future because if a sewer problem does occur an outside contractor will have to be paid by the town. "In my opinion, this is just as bad as laying off two police officers," Bonacci said. "I say this with a heavy heart, but this budget has been seriously mismanaged."
Councilman Gerald Nelson also expressed frustration with the proposed layoff of this employee saying that the plan is counterproductive and short sighted.
The public hearing and final adoption of the Berkeley Heights 2010 Municipal Budget will be on August 10th.