BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The 2018 budget picture for Bridgewater Township is being pieced together, with the deadline approaching.
Township Administrator James Naples held public hearings with town department heads Nov. 20. The 2018 municipal budget must be submitted to the Bridgewater Township Council early in the year.
Naples explained to each department manager that the state requires budget hearings to be held every year in November, for appropriations requests and infrastructure improvement.
“We rely on our managers to provide us with areas of cost efficiency and shared services,” he said.
Naples also said that municipal pension and health benefit costs have risen, and revenues have declined, including the regeneration of surplus, thanks to the state’s 2 percent cap. It is also not completely certain what will happen when the new governor takes office in January.
“It’s been a challenging fiscal year for us,” he said.
Also in attendance at the hearing was recently-reelected councilman Howard Norgalis.
Presiding Judge William T. Kelleher, Jr., of the Bridgewater Municipal Court spoke about the cost of court language interpreters, for defendants and other individuals who do not speak English, and said the Supreme Court is threatening to enforce new rules concerning their usage. Kelleher said the Bridgewater court has used Spanish, Romanian and Russian translators in the past, all of whom have to be certified to appear in court.
Some interpreters, he said, can cost as much as several hundred dollars per hour, depending on how obscure are the languages that they are called to translate.
“I think it’s the wildcard in the budget,” said Kelleher. “It’s an unforeseeable expense.”
Kelleher said he believes the legal department’s budget numbers will otherwise be right on, although he added there was possibly more to “shave off”, as he termed it. He also said that the amount of offsetting revenue is always uncertain.
Director of Municipal Services/Township Engineer David Battaglia said he has been going through budget requests for buildings and grounds, and had originally put in a line item for sealing the concrete floors at the Department of Public Works. He said the job was to have been done in early October, but that there had been an additional mixture found in the concrete that worked to keep hydrocarbons out.
That mixture, he said, rendered the sealing unnecessary, which saved the town about $40,000.
Battaglia said the division is also seeking a certified pesticide license, in order to use pesticides in local parks.
“We’ve never had that before,” he said of the license. “We can transfer some dollars there.”
He also said the division has tried to keep its expenditures under control, and he believes it has done that. He said he does expect to have to increase the budget for new software licenses at about $1,500 apiece for the planning, zoning and engineering departments.
Concerning tree removal, Naples said that only about a third of the budget has been spent.
Battaglia said this is that department’s busy time of year, and that $3,000 has also been requested for traffic lights.
“There’s been a lot of accidents,” said Battaglia. “We need to make repairs.”
He added that money for the traffic lights will be coming back to the town through insurance, and will be used for maintenance such as light bulb replacement.
The Bridgewater code enforcement and fire departments are reportedly both in good shape. The fire department has put in a requisition for an additional vehicle, as it is currently borrowing one from the code department that is over 10 years old and itself needs to be replaced.
Such vehicles are usually paid for out of monies collected for code enforcement penalties.
There has also been a request put in for mobile printers utilizing new software that could print code violations on-site, without the use of postage to mail tickets, as is standard practice.
“It’s a relatively minimal cost, and it’s definitely a change from the past,” said Battaglia.
As for the Chimney Rock project, Battaglia said that it is still ongoing, with three shifts and a 24-hour schedule.
“It’s been a busy year for those guys,” he said.
Battaglia also said that the engineering department is seeking an AUTOCAD computer to have at its counter, like code enforcement did, to serve as a backup. He said the computer, which is used for automatic design capabilities, had been in the budget request last year, but was not granted.
Construction projects in the township are also expected to be finished, particularly the road projects, while sewer repairs are ongoing. Planning and zoning has both received numerous applications, with most major projects under construction.
Battaglia added that the Center of Excellence will probably be the biggest town application in 2018.
“Earlier is always better when it comes to roadwork,” said Battaglia. “We did pave an awful lot of roads this year, and we’d like to get it done earlier (next year).”
Director of Health and Human Services Chris Poulsen said there has been a decline in interest income, and there are also regulatory challenges facing his division. He said the human services budget remains level, as does the health department’s.
Asked about the impact of the potential legalization of marijuana, Poulsen said there has been little guidance so far from the state.
“We’ve gotten very little direction,” he said. “It’s tough to judge at this point.”
The state’s health department would supposedly handle vetting procedures and facilities, if marijuana were to become legalized in the near future. It could be similar to the age of sale for tobacco, as Poulsen said that municipalities in New Jersey have done.
Poulsen also said that according to the proposed state marijuana legalization bill, local governing bodies could decide for themselves if they wished to sell marijuana. Towns could deny if they wanted to do so, but then they would not receive funding from sales tax.
The matter might also go to a public vote.
“It’s challenging,” Poulsen said.
He also mentioned that the division is no longer subscribing to its old system regarding the issue of marriage licenses, but is now employing state templates for that purpose.
Poulsen said the budget is level for services for Bridgewater’s senior citizens, and there are no requests in the capital budget.
He added that there is about $100 left in the budget for crisis transportation, after Naples inquired about public assistance, with transfers from the county having been completed.
“The bulk of the budget comes from the state, anyway,” Poulsen said.
Deputy Township Clerk Grace Karanja, representing the clerk’s department, said there could be increased costs for document imaging. She said she doesn’t know how that will play out, and that extra monies for that purpose have not been allotted in the budget.
Chief of Police Al Nicaretta spoke last, and said there has been an increase of $15,000 regarding bids and contracts for police uniform cleaning. He explained that the previous vendor has gone bankrupt, and the department then had to return to its former vendor.
“That’s the one major increase we’ll see in 2018,” said Nicaretta. “It’s kind of unavoidable at this point.”
He also said there will be a $1,500 increase for copier paper, from last year’s budget. Technology costs are also expected to increase by several thousand dollars as the police department switches over to a new, battery-backed reporting system directed by the state police.
Nicaretta added that manpower costs have increased three to fourfold with the bail reform law that went into effect this year. Such cases now require access to the state system, along with the involvement of a judge and a prosecutor in each new instance, which altogether takes up much more time.
“It’s a labor intensive process now,” he said.
Naples also asked Nicaretta about the potential for marijuana legalization, with assumptions of new equipment for motor vehicle stops, and determination of legal limits. Nicaretta spoke of using drug recognition experts, plus balance and blood pressure tests to determine the type and/or amount of drugs in an individual’s system.
Nicaretta added that the state wants to get more officers trained through its system, although he said this would not necessarily be for every officer on the Bridgewater police force, and that it is not yet incorporated into the budget.
Nicaretta also said that he would like to purchase four unmarked police vehicles, through the capital budget, as well as a new alco-test machine, allegedly to test for drunk driving, valued at about $18,500 and which he believes will go into effect sometime next year.