I’d like to respond to the misleading and inflammatory information contained in the article “Budget Woes” in the recent mailing of the Berkeley Heights Taxpayers Association newsletter “Our Voice” dated June 2011. In it, the author, who is unknown, stated that 2011 salaries n our Administration/Executive Dept., Engineering Dept., and Recreation Dept., increased by 8.8%, 9.0 %, and 9.4% respectively over 2010.  While this is true, the unknown author failed to mention that these were not salary raises.  Rather, the numbers cited reflect the following series of events.

Last year, as you may remember, all township employees (except police, dispatch, and a statutory employee) were furloughed the equivalent of 7 days without pay in order to balance our budget without further taxation.  This reduced the salary and wage line by $56,000 for the 2010 budget year.  Additionally, our Township Engineer position was vacated the end of September and the position went unfilled for the remainder of 2010, again reducing the salary and wage line.  In April 2010, the entire Council chose to forgo their salaries for the remainder of the year to further reduce the 2010 budget. 

This year no one was furloughed, Council is being paid for the full year at the same salary we have received since 2002, and we hired a new Township Engineer in January 2011.  So yes, it “appears” that 2011 salaries have increased by 9+ %, but only because salaries were reduced in 2010 for purposes of balancing the budget for that year, and because a position went unfilled for the last 3 months of 2010.  In reality, on January 1, salaries were increased 1% and on July 1st salaries will increase another 1.5%. It should be noted that our employees received no salary increases for 2009 and 2010. 

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On January 1, 2011, I hired a new Township Administrator for $20,000 more that our previous administrator, which I publicly announced upon her hiring.  She is worth every penny, and in fact, she has found efficiencies and cost reductions year to date that amount to well over the $20,000 salary difference between her and the former administrator. She is committed to continue this ongoing review to ensure more reductions. She also voluntarily contributes an extra percentage toward her medical benefits than required.  She has her bachelor’s degree in Engineering and MBA from Lehigh University, is a certified Town Clerk and Registrar, and will soon complete her Certified Financial Officer and Tax Collector training. 

The fact is that the 2011 Salary/Wage line was reduced by $92,000 and the Operation/Expense line was reduced by $36,000 over 2010 because of a reduction in staff and efficiencies.  The Berkeley Heights Council, led by Council President Kevin Hall and Council Vice President Craig Pastore, should be commended for reducing the 2011 municipal budget by over $50,000 compared to 2010, without any impact to services.  This could have only been accomplished by thorough analysis of expenditures and the discipline of “zero-based” budgeting.

To state that $3,000 was taken from the senior citizen budget to fund salary raises is categorically misleading. Expenditure reductions were implemented after reviews of previous years’ spending. It is additionally significant to understand that the “senior citizens” funding goes solely to the “Senior Citizen Association”, not for activities for all seniors.  This Association is not a department in the Township, but is a private organization.

MORE IMPORTANTLY is the fact that the persons or person who produced this newsletter should have attended the public budget meetings in February, March, and April if they wanted to have real input and not wait until 4 days before an election in June. No one from the BH Taxpayers Association attended a single budget meeting or voiced any concern during our budget deliberations. In other words “OUR VOICE” was a “SILENT VOICE” when it mattered most.  For that matter, who is “Our Voice?”  In this entire newsletter there is no one’s name attached to any article including the president’s message! Who are they and where are they getting their information?

In closing, let me remind “OUR VOICE,” whoever it is, that all of us who were elected are also taxpayers and are as concerned about controlling taxes as are all residents.  As Mayor, I represent all of the taxpayers in Berkeley Heights, and along with the Council, we will do everything we can to manage taxes while continuing to maintain the quality of life that we enjoy as residents of Berkeley Heights.

As always, I welcome input and discussion in this or any other matter, but all must come to the table in the spirit of fairness, honesty, and goodwill.