BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -- There will be no increase for the municipal portion of the property tax bills, thanks to significant cuts to the draft budget.

During a special meeting of the council tonight via Zoom, Township Administrator Liza Viana, CFO Eugenia Poulos and Mayor Angie Devanney discussed the adjustments made in the anticipated Revenues, Appropriations and Capital Budget. With a couple of exceptions, most of the adjustments were cuts. 

The budget has not yet been introduced and, because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the state has given municipalities until April 28 to introduce the budget. 

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The driving force behind the changes in the budget was the COVID-19 Pandemic which has changed the way of life in America, damaged the economy and threatened tens of thousands of lives.

On the revenue side, the cuts included $50,000 under the Municipal Court, $75,000 on interest on Investments, $175,000 in Hotel Taxes, $12,500 from Uniform Fire Prevention, $10,000 for Board of Education Fuel Reimbursement and $30,000 for Delinquent Taxes. The one bright note on the revenue side is the extension of the existing Connell liquor license, which adds $325,000 to the budget. That leaves only $27,500 in revenue cuts.

Adjustments to appropriations in the budget were small in some areas -- $4,500 in the General Administration, $6,000 in the Municipal Clerk’s office, and large in others, such as Group Health -- $88,000, and a Deferred Charge-NJEIT Loan Receivable of $285,453. Summer Help was eliminated entirely and Recreation Director Tom Barton, who is retiring by June, will not be replaced until the COVID-19 situation is more clear. 

The Tax Collector has an additional $5,000 added, as residents will find themselves paying estimated taxes this year, which will require an extra mailer. As of April 6, $676,603.00 has been cut from appropriations.

In the Capital Budget, the License Plate Reader and Radio Communications Upgrade, $45,600, were cut from the Police budget; the Sewer Jet Replacement, $510,100, was cut from the Sewer Department’s budget and the Toto Infield Pro 5040 for $33,100 was cut from the Recreation’s budget. The cuts totaled $588,700.

Only three residents had questions on the budget changes.

One, Vic Martinez, asked if whether property tax payments due on May 1 could be delayed. A news flash was posted after the meeting  on the Berkeley Heights Website, that the state is considering extending the grace period. Check it out here.

He also cautioned that the distribution of the money from the recent federal CARES legislation should not be politicized and said Union County can ask the grant money from the federal government be allocated to Berkeley Heights. 

The mayor said the mayors, county officials, and legislators are working in a very bipartisan way to deal with the grant monies and the due date of taxes. 

Tom Maciejewski thanked the mayor and council for taking time to review the budget again. He asked if the council intended to include a cap bank this year and was told by the CFO the cap bank provides a “little cushion” if the budget goes over its two-percent cap in the next year. It is especially important to have one this year because the budget is, in part, only funding a part of the year, since people are not working “two to three months of the year” because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Next year, the town will have to budget for a whole year of operations and could find itself exceeding the cap.

The mayor said she “would be in favor of passing that.” 

John Sincaglia said, “It’s obvious you’ve done a lot of work to get thing thing down to a zero increase,” then asked how many dollars does it take to lower each dollar of taxes? The CFO said, “A penny on a dollar is  $183,549.”

He also asked if it would be possible to cut the late fee for people who pay their property taxes late The mayor said the concern is if the late fee is forgiven, that there will be people who can pay who won’t. That could create a shortfall for the Board of Education, and could lead to teachers being furloughed. 

These and other questions were asked and answered and the citizens hearing closed.

The mayor again thanked everyone for their hard work, “It truly was teamwork.” 

The next meeting of the council will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 14, via Zoom.