BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater Township's $42 million municipal budget for 2018 was unanimously approved by the council, although not without a few questions along the way.

An amendment adjusting the budget for debt reduction was passed by the council by a 3-2 vote, before the vote on the full budget was taken. The budget operating expenses were given as $42,083,783, while the sewer utility expense is $12,454,043.

Council vice president Matthew Moench currently serves on the council’s budget committee and initially proposed changes to adopting the budget as a whole. He said it was not so much a case of adding and subtracting funds, as reallocating $100,000 towards the township’s debt reduction.

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Moench added that the township needs to have less reliance on debt, and that in borrowing funds, it is later paying them back at cost.

“This is an attempt to move us toward that, a little bit at a time,” said Moench, who was also pleased with the 0 percent tax increase in this year’s budget.

Council president Christine Henderson Rose asked what percentage of debt the $100,000 would cover, and Moench said it would be a very small amount. He said $5 million has been applied toward last year’s budget, out of $6 million that had been approved, but that had not been permanently financed.

Moench also said the town is borrowing $75,000 less this year, while township administrator James Naples said the total reduction would be about 1 percent.

Naples said his department had received the proposed reductions, around 5 p.m. the day of the meeting, which had left little time to review them. He said he did not agree with the proposals, which would see unpalatable decreases in the Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments, in light of an additional 110 acres in town and an increased number of buildings, respectively. 

Naples also said he still needed to speak to the police chief, and added that he doesn't think “1 percent moves the needle.”

Councilman Filipe Pedroso, who also serves on the budget committee, said what he was hearing sounded like an echo of the previous year. He said the mayor had made predictions of “doom and gloom,” and that almost 2 percent of the budget had been cut last year.

“The year went by just fine,” said Pedroso. “It’s a very minor cut, compared to last year.”

He said he understands that the full impact is not yet known, but that the budget committee felt the numbers were sustainable, especially where Bridgewater’s taxpayers were concerned.

“One penny more is one penny too much,” said Pedroso, adding that debt reduction should be a long-term municipal goal.

Councilman Allen Kurdyla noted that he had a lot of issues with the amendment. He questioned the 0 percent increase on a $42 million budget, particularly since the township has taken on added responsibilities, such as Camp Cromwell.

Kurdyla said he trusts the judgment of Bridgewater Township Chief Financial Officer Natasha Turchan and other township administrators. 

Kurdyla added that he was inclined to support the budget as it had been presented by administrators, and said the township could perform budget transfers at year’s end. He also felt the 1 percent budget reduction is a commendable idea, but doesn't accomplish enough at present.

Councilman Howard Norgalis, who previously served on the budget committee for a number of years, said he is happy with a zero-based budget. He also said he would support what Moench had proposed.

Rose said that what concerned her was the township’s needs, and that the township continued to grow, but the budget does not. She said she doesn't like a zero-based budget again, although she did vote for one last year, and called it “short-sighted.”

Rose added that having zero funds for historic preservation in 2018 was “appalling” to her, with at least two unnamed pieces of property in town worthy of preservation, and perhaps Camp Cromwell also. She said one of those pieces will likely fall down in the next year, even though the county has been trying to give Bridgewater $85,000 towards it, and that the township wouldn’t be able to spend it this year either.

Rose said the budget as submitted is in the best interests of the professionals and town workers. She said she is not excited about taking $100,000 out of the budget and moving it around to pay off debt.

“I’m struggling with that,” added Rose, who said she would not support that measure.

Pedroso responded that the mayor and the administration proposed the budget, and that the budget committee then went through it, line by line. He said it was labor-intensive, and then asked if the council should just ignore that process.

He said it was okay to disagree, and that if the public benefitted, even by a small number, then it should be done.

“The budget should reflect the needs of the government at the time,” said Pedroso.

Pedroso added that $75,000 was approved last year for historic preservation, but nothing was done. He said he shared Rose's feelings that preservation is important, even without the $75,000 in this year’s budget.

The amendment passed by a 3-2 measure, with Rose and Kurdyla voting against it. The budget then passed by a 5-0 vote, after which Rose told Pedroso and Moench that she did appreciate their efforts on the budget, and that it was not an easy job.