BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - To keep the Berkeley Heights municipal budget under the mandated state cap, the Berkeley Heights Township Council on Monday night said that six of the town's employees could be laid off in the near future to save the municipality over $300,000. Council President Joe Bruno said that the positions slated for elimination are one township clerk office employee, one finance office employee, one code enforcement officer, two police officers and one sewer department employee.
Bruno mentioned that the town has exhausted many options during the past few months including negotiating union contracts, reducing salaries and taking certain utility expenses out of the budget in order to generate revenue. He mentioned that the decisions to lay off certain town employees is not something the town wants to do, but something it must do based given the reality of the budget situation.
"We have to work with the numbers in this budget that are currently given to us and make management decisions based on those numbers," Bruno said. "Reducing man power and making cuts seems like a reasonable solution and we'll hope it works out," he added.
He said passing a reasonable budget was the council's responsibility to its employees, taxpayers and citizens. The budget is to be introduced on June 29th of this year and will be voted on by Berkeley Heights residents on August 10th.
During the public comments section of the meeting, Berkeley Heights resident Carol Matula asked what the tax levy would be with the proposed cuts within the budget. Although no exact numbers were determined by the council on Monday night it was estimated that there would be a $170 tax increase if the budget is brought down to cap. That would be a 9.8 percent increase over the previous year. Matula expressed displeasure with these numbers, citing that many taxpayers will have a hard time affording a nearly double digit tax increase.
At the beginning of the meeting there was discussion about the possibility of changing health insurance policies for town employees. The town is looking to save $294,000 through this change, according to Mayor Robert Woodruff.
"The higher deductible that people use the cheaper the plan. That's the concept of insurance. It's based on risk," Woodruff said. "It's the individuals own responsibility to make an assessment and then make the call."
There was talk about encouraging employees to use POS or PPO insurance plans because they are the most cost-effective solutions that will benefit the town in the shortest amount of time.