BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Each week leading to the June 6 Primary election, the Republican candidates running for Berkeley Heights Township Council have the opportunity to answer question(s) that will be run in a series by TAPinto Berkeley Heights.

The following answer is from Republican candidate John Leo for Week 2.

Week 2 Question: The Township's tax split shows the Township's piece of the total tax levy is 17.64%, the School makes up 55.67%, County 25.15% and the Library 1.54%. 

Sign Up for E-News

The 2017 Total Municipal Budget is $19,127,717 (according to documents supplied by Township CFO Mike Marceau), of which, $18,804,142 is fixed expenditures.This leaves $323,575, or 1.69%, of the total budget for variable spending.

What, if anything, would you cut or do to make a meaningful dent in the property bill to run the municipality? 

It would be a massive (but vital) undertaking to not only begin reducing our debt but to minimize the tax burden on residents.  We should be accessing available grants and work tirelessly to promote local business and revenue.  In 2009, Berkeley Heights ranked 99th highest of 565 municipalities for real estate tax rates. In 2016, our town continued its nearly year over year climb to 74th. With scrutiny over all spending including fixed costs, we should reverse this trend. The following goals are realistic, measurable, and achievable.

  • Advocate no increase in debt by conducting a joint, thorough review of planned purchases and no-bid contracts to increase productivity and capture all possible cost savings. 
  • Review all staff needs and IT contractor capabilities with the intent to provide staff with the most modern technology tools for maximum efficiency.
  • The Redevelopment Act allows for a governing body to chose, without restriction, any price or terms it deems reasonable for a project initiated under this act.  The Municipal Complex Redevelopment is one of these projects.  With a broad range of possible estimates, there should be restrictions as to which bid is approved while meeting the requirements of the project.  This is currently not the case.  It also isn't evident to residents whether there was enough scrutiny as to the reasonable needs of the affected departments.  Both need to be addressed with the goal of minimizing the financial impact because the bond covering this project increases taxes before even considering increases to cover currently planned new debt for road repairs or unexpected future expenses.
  • Ensure the township is utilizing maximum possible grant money.  Grants such as Safe Routes to School (SRTS) should be awarded to our town every year.  The SRTS grant is a good example because it can use already available state funds to promote safe pedestrian activity and reduce traffic thus increasing the life of future road improvements. New Providence and Plainfield successfully received this particular grant for each of the last two years.

The process to move towards total government efficiency can improve year by year but it must begin immediately and debt must be addressed before more major capital expenditures.  With input and learning from neighboring mayors and town councils who have reduced costs, reduced their debts and have completed recent municipal redevelopments, I will bring forth these resources and build a team of stakeholders interested in increasing the efficiency of our local government.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in the answer are the candidate's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the candidate.