BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -- Two major pieces of news came out of the Berkeley Heights Township Council meeting Tuesday night. There are currently 14 cases of COVID-19 in Berkeley Heights, and the municipal portion of residents' property tax bill may only increase $9 per household.
The meeting, which was held via Zoom, was attended by all members of the council, plus the mayor, township administrator, municipal clerk, Chief Financial Officer, and alternate Township Attorney Guido Weber of Weber Dowd Law.
Mayor Angie Devanney said Township Council reports were suspended for the evening, then made a joint statement on behalf of the entire council. While she addressed a number of issues, the two largest involved the COVID-19 cases and the municipal budget.
Since March 9, when township officials learned a resident had been diagnosed with the first presumptive case of COVID-19, things have changed very quickly. There are now 14 total cases in the township. “No one has been hospitalized since the first case. Our thoughts and prayers go out to every family who is struggling with this disease,” she said.
On the budget front, Devanney said she and council members “are doing a deep and thorough review of the municipal budget and will hold a budget hearing in the near future.” They have suggested cuts in the budget and “Our CFO is hard at work making cuts while safeguarding needed services. We are closely reevaluating all planned expenditures for 2020 and looking for ways to provide some relief for residents. Most of this will depend on what policies the state and federal government set. Once the state communicates to us how any new mandates will impact us, we will make necessary changes at the municipal budget level based on what we know now.
“This week, we quickly identified cuts that will bring this year’s tax increase to just $9 per household for the municipal portion of the budget only - compared to the $69 per household number we had in our initial budget draft this year.” To do that the council “reduced revenues by $150,000 and reduced planned expenditures by $497,353,” she said.
The council continues to look for other ways to reduce expenditures. One way to cut costs may be eliminating the annual bulk pickup program which, if the bid is awarded, will cost the township $139,000. Instead, it was pulled and put on hold for at least two weeks, “in hopes we have a clearer picture of what the future holds by then. We know this is a favorite resident service, but we have to be financially conservative until we know more,” Devanney said.
During the meeting, there were a number questions from residents about property taxes and whether the due dates can be delayed.
The short answer is no, the local government can’t change the due date, only the state can, the mayor said.
In the more “bad news” category, the state has notified municipalities there is a freeze on Homestead Rebates, she said.