BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -- Township Council adopted its $23.5 million 2020 Budget at the June 23 meeting. The municipal government will require $22.3 million to perform its functions and the library $1.2 million. (The library tax levy is set by the state). This is only $56,868 or .038 percent more than last year’s budget. 

General revenues for 2020 are $7.4 million, not quite $1 million more than received in 2019, leaving $13.8 million to be raised by taxes to run the municipal government, plus $1.2 million to be raised by taxes for the library. 

The municipal portion of the property tax bill will remain flat, and the owner of the “average” home with an assessed value of $313,367 will pay $2,545.49, including the library tax levy, which is $2.47 a year more or $0.21 a month more than was paid in 2019. 

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Budget meetings began in February and by March there was a tentative budget. But by April 6, it became necessary to revise the tentative budget. Cuts were made to the capital budget and proposed appropriations for a variety of departments. In addition, anticipated revenues were adjusted.

The mayor, CFO and council members worked to make significant cuts in spending to keep the municipal portion of the property tax flat. The cuts were made because township revenue was dropping as a result of state government efforts to flatten the curve during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Closing schools, restaurants, hotels and other non-essential businesses made a real dent in the township's revenues. 

The budget was introduced at the May 26 meeting, although there were no budget documents included in the agenda. The public hearing was set for June 23. On June 9, the council held a public hearing and adopted an ordinance establishing a Cap Bank. 

On June 23, the agenda did not include a copy of the budget. During the public hearing resident John Sincaglia said he had had a “lot of concerns, initially,” but after spending a long time on the phone with council member Jeanne Kingsley, “I got the answers I needed.” Since most of “any budget is personnel,” he said even though he had heard criticisms of the budget, none were specific. He said he thought the council had done a “good job … the best job … given the circumstances.”

They voted unanimously to close the hearing on the budget and the mayor read the adopting language from pages 41 and 42 of the ordinance. (See 36:32 on the video, here)  

When it was time to vote, Kingsley asked when the PowerPoint presentation on the budget would be presented, “Are we going to do that before we vote on the budget?”

They then showed the 2020 Municipal Budget Presentation, some of which can be seen in the photos, above. The full presentation can be found here.

Of particular note are new sources of revenue, including the expanded liquor license for Connell Park, $475,000; Connell Park (with or without rezoning) and sewer connection fees. In addition, expenditures were eliminated or reduced, including summer interns; delayed hiring of a Recreation Director; crossing guards who were not used when schools were closed and other items.

After the presentation, the public hearing was reopened.

Heidi Cohen said the CFO “is correct, you do have to do the budget publicly -- two weeks ago.” The PowerPoint presentation has been optional in Berkeley Heights, she said, but she has “never seen it presented moments before a vote.”  She asked the council to reconsider holding the vote and suggested the vote be put off for two weeks. 

The council adopted the budget. The 2020 Municipal User Friendly Budget can be examined on the township website here.

Berkeley Heights is not the only governmental entity crafting a budget with a zero increase for taxpayers.

Last month, the Union County Freeholder board approved a budget which will have a zero increase in county taxes. According to the county’s figures, the owners of the average assessed home in Berkeley Heights, will pay $2,933 to support the county, a $45 decrease from 2019. 

On May 7, the Board of Education adopted the 2020-2021 School District Budget in the total amount of $55,468,216; $44,731,202 of which will be raised by taxes. This amount was $403,000 lower than when the budget was introduced on March 12 and 1.23 percent more than the current budget. In addition, the board decided to postpone a referendum which was planned for September.