To the editor: 

In a recent Mayor’s Roundtable, the town council mentioned that Berkeley Heights uses zero-based budgeting. The Nov 17, 2016 stream of the Mayor's Roundtable explained the budgeting process and made it clear that Berkeley Heights is not using ZBB by any definition of the term.  

Our council used to have five or six budget review meetings to publicly go over the budget prior to its approval.  These days this is no longer the case. Why not?  We've been told that is because we've switched to zero-based budgeting. However, recent comments in the Mayor's Roundtable call these claims into question.  

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Quotes from the Mayor’s Roundtable:

Administrator John Bussiculo: “...  we go through because at the end of the day, we have to stick to our 2 percent or less so we know what our dollars are.  It's really just how it's going to get split.”

Mayor Woodruff: “and John are we 0 based?”

Mr. Bussiculo: “yes we're 0 based. We go off last year where we were, start from that we don't do anything above 2 percent is all we are allowed.  At the end of the day Mike looks at it and says we've got x amount of dollars on that 2 percent  and how we split it then just becomes the discussion.”

Mr. Bussiculo: “to bring to the council and say let's go over it line by line every item. It really is just a waste of their time”

Is Berkeley Heights doing Traditional or Zero-Based Budgeting?

The quotes from the Mayor and Administrator clearly describe the traditional budget process, not zero-based budgeting. They have provided no evidence to support the their claim of ZBB.  

What Mr. Bussiculo and the town’s CFO are doing is merely going off of last year’s budget, adding 2% then working backwards making sure all of this money is allocated. Last year plus two percent is the maximum that they can spend due to the cap. Per Mr. Bussiculo’s words: “At the end of the day Mike looks at it and says we've got x amount of dollars on that 2 percent  and how we split it then just becomes the discussion.”  This is clearly NOT zero-based budgeting.   

Why is this important for Berkeley Heights?

With yearly tax increases nearing 4%, for which the municipal increases played a significant role, we need to keep a keen eye on the municipal budget. On top of the normal budgets, Berkeley Heights is being faced with an unknown but potentially large tax impact from the COAH settlement along with one of, if not the, largest tax impact in Berkeley Heights History, the $31,500,000 Municipal Redevelopment Project. In addition to these issues, there seems to be no plan to cut back on normal Capital Spending either.   

The Berkeley Heights taxpayers deserve that their elected and appointed officials should put in the work needed to make sure that our tax dollars are being spent most efficiently.

Issues with Traditional Budgeting     

Here are some illustrations of issues with traditional budgeting:

Department heads have a tendency to fully spend any allocated budget with a “use it or lose it” mentality, spending on lower quality projects rather passing on the funds.   

Where only incremental spending is considered, means to compare the value of one service versus another are reduced.  Because of the lack of transparency it is difficult to determine if a reduction in services within that line item is warranted.  

Under a traditional budgeting system, the decision of which services should be funded, the answer is usually: the same ones that were funded last year. It is not guaranteed that these initiatives continue to be the most efficient use of the funds for the current period.  

What is Zero-Based-Budgeting

Zero-Based-Budgeting ( ZBB ) is process where a company starts with a “zero-base”, starting with a zero budget. It does not assume that last year’s budget amount is approved.  Each department needs to justify all of its expenditures  for that budget period and compete with the needs of the other department’s.    

Why Zero-Based Budgeting

Zero-based-budgeting is to provide governance, accountability, and visibility into the budgeting process usually resulting in costs savings when compared to traditional budgeting. It forces a closer look at each project and expenditures across all departments and its overall efficiency towards the goals of the town.  

A by-product of ZBB when is increased transparency of the budgeting process. An incremental budget never considers what the absolute minimum level of funding a program can survive on is. Rather, the current level of spending is usually considered a sort of de facto minimum.  

Zero Based Budgeting per Investopedia

Zero-based budgeting (ZBB) is a method of budgeting in which all expenses must be justified for each new period. Zero-based budgeting starts from a "zero base," and every function within an organization is analyzed for its needs and costs. Budgets are then built around what is needed for the upcoming period, regardless of whether the budget is higher or lower than the previous one.

Zero Based Budgeting per Wikipedia

Zero-based budgeting approach to planning and decision-making that reverses the working process of traditional budgeting. In traditional incremental budgeting, departmental managers justify only variances versus past years based on the assumption that the "baseline" is automatically approved. By contrast, in zero-based budgeting, every line item of the budget, rather than only the changes, must be approved.[1] Zero-based budgeting requires that the budget request be re-evaluated thoroughly, starting from the zero-base; this involves preparation of a fresh budget every year without reference to the past. This process is independent of whether the total budget or specific line items are increasing or decreasing.


Edmund Tom Maciejewski 

Editor's note: This letter to the editor submitted by resident Edmund Tom Maciejewski was written prior to the Township Council meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 when Mayor Bob Woodruff stated the comments made by Township Administrator John Bussiculo were made by mistake and were not what he intended to say during the Mayor's Round Table taping that was livestreamed on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016.