BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater Township continues to soldier on in the face of COVID-19, and members of the township council offered updates, thoughts and prayers to residents and all those affected at May 7 meeting.
“It’s a cloud hanging over us,” councilman Michael Kirsh said. “It’s a tragedy of epic proportions. Our community is hurting.”
Kirsh said he hopes the numbers won’t rise any more, but fears they might. He offered his thoughts, prayers and support to the families of Bridgewater.
Bridgewater Mayor Matthew Moench said in his report to the council that Bridgewater’s municipal building on Commons Way remains closed, with town staff continuing to work remotely. He said the town is working on a plan “to slowly bring folks back into the building.”
Moench pointed out that increasing information is being distributed to the public regarding COVID-19 cases, due to more reliable data, such as age breakdowns.
“It’s largely more elderly people,” said Moench about coronavirus-related deaths. “We continue to see a trend in mortality rates.”
He added that the township remains in contact with all local nursing homes, which had prioritized medical gowns when asked about supplies they needed. He also said that Ring and the county have been able to obtain some, along with the OEM.
The mayor thanked municipal health officer Kevin Sumner and director of health and human services Christine Madrid and the rest of the staff for having done “an amazing job.”
“They continue to perform for our residents,” Moench said.
He said he also wanted to remind residents that they can contact the township via e-mail at Coronavirus@BridgewaterNJ.gov for Bridgewater-specific questions regarding the virus and the pandemic.
Moench later said that he had been part of recent conference calls with 50 to 100 other mayors and chief financial officers around the state about possibly getting legislation approved for townships to spread out their lack of revenue “directly related to COVID-19” over a period of time.
It is estimated that Bridgewater has lost some $1.8 million to the coronavirus so far, including the loss of revenue from local hotels and the Bridgewater Commons Mall, in addition to spending on COVID-19 matters, all of which Moench called a “big challenge.”
He said that if the losses are passed on to residential taxpayers to make up, the result would be an 11 percent tax increase. He added he has testified before the state assembly to not have residents impacted.
Concerning the 2020 municipal budget, Moench said the township is looking at cuts, including potential staff reductions, in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re looking at every opportunity to reduce costs,” he said.
According to a township press release that was issued the day following the council meeting, Moench had sent a letter to the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders asking that governing body to "share in the pain" of an anticipated decrease in municipal tax revenue collection, ostensibly due to the financial effects of COVID-19. Property taxes are collected by municipal governments, but by law, those governments must pay both the local school district and the county prior to retaining any funds that would be used to pay township expenses.
The release stated that this year, approximately 68 percent of Bridgewater's property tax revenues will go to the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District, with another 19 percent going to Somerset County. That leaves about 11 percent of those revenues for Bridgewater Township.
“After speaking with representatives with the school district, they have agreed to give us relief on those mandatory payments by lessening the amount due this month," said Moench in the release, something he had also mentioned at the council meeting the previous evening. "They are willing to be an open and cooperative partner with the township during this difficult time, and our hope is that our county government will mirror that spirit of cooperation."
Moench further asked the county to partner with Bridgewater to provide tax relief to residents in need by "agreeing to pay the proportional share of any borrowing costs the township incurs if it waives late fees for property taxes and can then not make our required payments to the county, or to agree to accept a reduced payment in proportion with the property taxes we collect."
He added that such cooperation would allow Bridgewater to ensure the county still receives its payments required by law, while not placing additional financial burden on already hard-pressed residents.
"I understand that all levels of government are seeing shortfalls in revenue, but that only serves to underscore the importance of us all working together for the benefit of our taxpayers," said Moench.