BRIDGEWATER, NJ - With the 2017 budget already introduced, the Bridgewater Township Council heard from chief financial officer Natasha Turchan regarding questions on the police budget and how to create a 0 percent tax increase for residents.
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.
Councilman Matthew Moench questioned what it would take to create a 0 percent tax increase for residents.
According to Turchan, the township would need to eliminate $418,654.37 from the budget in order to accomplish that.
Councilman Filipe Pedroso questioned, with regard to the police department budget, why they are not seeing a decrease in salaries and wages since switching to county dispatch.
With county dispatch, all 911 calls are directed through dispatchers hired by the county, who then send out police officers in the appropriate and corresponding towns.
In August 2013, the council voted to move to the county dispatch system, with a projected savings to the township of $4.5 million over 10 years.
But Pedroso said he wondered why, with the loss of the local dispatchers, they are not seeing savings from the department.
“A couple years ago when we were considering moving 911 to county, there was some representation that we would be saving quite a bit of money,” he said. “If we look at salaries from then to now, we should see a decrease, right?”
Turchan said the actual savings itself is not in the budget, it’s just that the budget did not increase as much as it would have with the dispatchers on site.
Of course, Turchan said, there are still increases to police salaries, plus health benefits requirements which caused the budget to increase, but not as much as it otherwise would have.
“If you look at 2015 when we had dispatchers, and then look at the police budget this year, the number is almost identical,” she said. “So we didn’t have an increase in the budget while the salaries went up.”
Pedroso said he would still expect a decrease.
“I can’t imagine how there wouldn’t be a drop in salaries, it doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said. “That was one of the big considerations we had, so I am trying to find the savings.”
“At the end of the day, I’ve never seen a decrease even though we cut the dispatchers,” he added. “We cut out $600,000, and I understand the police are entitled to raises, I don’t want to imply that I have an issue with them getting raises.”
“But if we were told that by getting rid of the dispatchers we would see a decrease, then I don’t understand this,” he added.
Councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose also questioned whether there is money in the budget for taking care of open space properties, including the Lane Brokaw House and Camp Cromwell, for which the township recently approved the purchase.
Township administrator James Naples said money is included in the budget for that work, although they don’t yet own Camp Cromwell, so that hasn’t been entirely worked out yet.
Rose also questioned whether the budgets submitted by the different departments were accepted as originally drafted.
“There were some cuts,” Naples said. “We work with the departments beginning in August, so some of their expectations are real, and then we go down to what we think everyone will agree with.”
The council is expected to hear from the police department, public works and the municipal judge regarding their sections of the budget over the next two meetings April 3 and April 13, prior to the public hearing being held April 17.