BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The 2019 Bridgewater Township municipal budget is finally a done deal.

The township council voted unanimously following a public hearing Aug. 5 to formally adopt the budget, along with an amendment to the town’s financial plan. The amendment, which was also approved by all five council members, had been introduced at the council’s previous meeting July.

No one from the sparse crowd spoke during the public hearing on the budget, either on the budget proper, or on the amendment, the latter of which was actually voted on first.

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Councilman Filipe Pedroso, who is a member of the council’s budget committee, along with council president Matthew Moench, said he struggled with his vote, especially with the budget being voted on in the late date of August.

“I didn’t like it when it was first brought up, and I still don’t,” he said of this year’s budget.

The council had originally introduced the 2019 municipal budget in early March, in the amount of $44,526,977, an increase of about $2 million over the 2018 budget.

Pedroso said that the spending increases in some municipal departments this year had been “excessive,” although he did not name any specific offices. He also cited “poor management” and added that the mayor had “lacked the fiscal ability” to manage the township.

Mayor Dan Hayes was not present at the meeting.

“The residents deserve a budget,” said Pedroso.

He said this year’s version contains a tax reduction, although he lamented that the reduction could have been even higher.

“That upsets me,” he said.

Pedroso also said that the township’s debt has been reduced by almost $1 million in the new budget.

“It’s a very positive move,” he said.

Pedroso finished by saying that the council does not have the ability to do much more, due to the mayor’s “closed door policy” regarding municipal department heads, whereby contact with those administrators has to first go through the mayor’s office.

Pedroso did say that township administrator James Naples and chief financial officer Natasha Turchan have both been helpful.

Councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose, who read aloud from a speech by the mayor at the previous council meeting, later explained that the council’s limited ability to reach out to administrators has been a policy of several previous Bridgewater mayors, not just Hayes. Moench said he doesn’t believe it is a good policy, while Pedroso said he feels the mayor is entitled to change the policy.

Moench said that, as a whole, this year’s budget is “proof of what was presented to us.” He added that it responds to the council’s call for debt payments and reduced taxes.

“We hope in the future to do even greater (in those two areas) than now,” said Moench.