BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The Bridgewater Township Council continued its discussion of the 2017 municipal budget Monday with inquiries as to whether the shared court with Somerville is saving the township money and how the plans stands for replacements of public works vehicles.
The budget, as introduced in early March, is set at $43,604,621.89 for 2017, a 0.3 percent increase over the realized 2016 budget of $43,447,365.18.
It calls for an increase in taxes of $17.16 for the average house assessed at $425,900.
The tax levy is increasing 1.92 percent over the 2016 budget.
As for the court section of the budget, Bridgewater Judge William Kelleher said his budget is quite similar to the 2016 budget.
“We were able to stay within the funds allotted last year, so the request for funds this year is slightly smaller,” he said. “We expect to be able to operate within those parameters for the remainder of the year.”
Councilman Howard Norgalis questioned the request in the budget for $8,000 in equipment maintenance, particularly when it has only been at $2,100 and $5,000 for the last two years.
“Is there a specific project that would lead to that increase?” he asked.
Kelleher said it comes from a recent replacement of the digital recording system, and Chief Financial Officer Natasha Turchan said it has to do with when the township has to begin budgeting for maintenance of the equipment.
Several years ago, Bridgewater entered into a shared service agreement with Somerville for shared court services between the two. Through the agreement, Somerville Court is held in Bridgewater, but each municipality maintains separate court functions.
Somerville Court reimburses Bridgewater Township for all costs associated with Somerville’s court functions.
Several council members questioned whether the township is seeing the expected benefits from that.
With regard to overtime for Bridgewater officers working during Somerville court, Kelleher said he believes there were three sessions in total last year that went overtime, so officers providing security were required to give extra time.
Councilman Filipe Pedroso also questioned why, in the 2016 budget, the court only received about $384,000 of the about $580,000 it was anticipating in revenue.
Kelleher said much of that has to do with a lower number of cases filed in Bridgewater than had been anticipated last year.
“The number of cases filed in Bridgewater court were down by over 45 percent, and the dispositions were down 42 percent, which led to the corresponding decrease in revenue,” he said. “The revenue is from work brought to the court. If that is lower than anticipated, the revenue is lower than expected.”
“I only work with tickets that are brought to me, and less tickets were brought to me,” he added.
As for public works, councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose questioned the replacement of two vehicles planned for the coming year, and whether there is a strategic plan in place to replace equipment on an ongoing basis.
“We keep an eye on the equipment, and as it needs to be replaced we look into doing that,” township engineer David Battaglia said.
But Rose questioned whether they anticipate 10 years out for needing to replace newly purchased vehicles.
Township administrator James Naples said it would depend on the usage.
“It may be 10 years from now that we don’t need that equipment any more,” he said. “Or maybe there is a change in technology.”
Battaglia said they also have to look at the vehicles used for salt because those wear out more quickly than others.
Pedroso questioned the revenue side of the budget, noting that in 2015, the department raised $1.6 million, and in 2016, they raised $2.07 million. But in 2017, he said, they are projecting $2 million.
“Why was there that increase of $400,000? he asked. “And now we see a little decrease.”
Naples said the increase translates into activity for the code department, namely inspections they conduct and the volume of permits.
“We had large permits this year and those projects are continuing into next year,” he said. “When we anticipate revenue, we cannot anticipate higher than what we had in the previous year.”
The council is expected to hear from more departments at the April 13 meeting, prior to the public hearing being held April 17.