$241,000 Cut in State Aid Could Result in Municipal Tax Increase of $112 for Average Property in Chatham Township: Total Tax Bill Could Jump by $232

CHATHAM TOWNSHIP, NJ - Those owning property in Chatham Township with an average assessment of $700,000 could face a tax increase solely to fund the operations of the municipality of $112 for 2010, according to figures presented by Township Business Administrator Thomas E. Ciccarone at Thursday's Chatham Township Committee meeting.

The total tax levy, according to Mr. Ciccarone, will increase by about 6%--including expenditures both inside and outside the state "cap" on increases—to $9,430,873 as the budget is currently constituted.

In addition to the tax rate increase on the average property for municipal purposes, he added, the share of taxes from Chatham Township to support the 2010-2011 budget of the School District of the Chathams will mean an estimated jump of $180; while the rate for Morris County taxes will decline about $60 for 2010.

The school district, which includes both Chatham Township and Chatham Borough, also saw a significant decrease in its state aid due to state efforts to rein in its deficit.

Contributing to the increased tax levy for Chatham Township, the administrator said, were a loss in miscellaneous revenues and a drop in interest rates on investments in addition to decreased state aid.

In order to absorb the loss in state aid and prevent tax increases from going even higher, he noted, the township is planning to take about $65,000 from surplus over the amount originally anticipated. Also figured into the calculations are decisions not to fill a vacant patrolman's position in the police department, not to fill the position of a retired police lieutenant and to delay filling the vacant Township Clerk's position. Mr. Ciccarone is currently serving in that capacity in addition to his other duties.

Mayor Nicole Hagner said the police chief will attempt to make up the loss of the patrolman position this year by adjusting other areas of his department this year and township officials will have to decide next year how they are going to deal with that loss in the future.

The administrator warned if miscellaneous revenues and state aid continue to decline, the township's surplus will eventually be depleted.

In addition, the proposed 2.5% per year limit on municipal tax increases next year would "be eaten up" by increased healthcare and pensions costs alone, he said, and the calamity could be made worse if the economy does not recover enough to halt decreases in state sales and income tax revenues.

More and more, he noted, communities will have to look at ways to share services in order to decrease the number of employees needed to perform various services.

The Township Committee is scheduled to formally introduce the budget at its next meeting.

One shared-service option being explored by the Township Committee is the takeover of the functions of its retiring Local Assistance Director by the Morris County Department of Human Services.

Currently, according to Maryjo Buchanan of the county agency, a person in need would receive cash assistance at the township level and be directed to telephone the county to arrange for Food Stamps, Medicaid and other assistance. Those unable to get to Morristown to take advantage of county services in those areas would be provided assistance for public transportation or taxicab fare.

If Morris County were to take over these functions, she added, there would be no cost to the township but the state aid normally received by the township for these functions would be sent to the county.

According to Gary Deneman, who is in charge of general assistance for the county, the transition to county control of Chatham Township clients would take about a month, in order to give the state time to transfer local assistance aid and for police and township clients to be notified.

Mr. Ciccarone said the township Local Assistance Director will be able to issue checks for existing clients until the end of April.

Replying to Township Committeeman Bailey Brower, Jr., who sits on the township's Local Assistance Board, Mr. Deneman said those with mental or substance abuse problems probably would have a single counselor assigned to them throughout the process, but those who needed help with Food Stamps and other problems might have to see more than one counselor.

Although Mr. Brower said the township had few residents in need of local assistance and it might be worth saving the approximately $11,000 per year cost of servicing these residents by joining with the county operation, he was concerned the county organization could not provide the immediate level of care and understanding as a Chatham-based agency.

He also said those attempting to defraud the system in order to collect Medicaid and other benefits could not be as easily detected and stopped from receiving benefits by someone in Morristown as someone in Chatham.

"I also would rather not see another level of bureaucracy between local residents and the care they need," he noted.

Mayor Hagner replied she favored moving the operation to the county for economic reasons and, if the Township Committee did not make a decision by its next meeting it would have to hire a part-time staff member to replace the retiring director.

In another possible prelude to shared services, the Committee approved the appointment of Deputy Municipal Court Clerk Nancy Bogosian as acting Municipal Court Clerk effective on April 1.

Mr. Ciccarone said Ms. Bogosian would serve in the acting capacity possibly until this coming fall as the township explores sharing court services with other municipalities.

The Township Committee also adopted a soil erosion and sediment control ordinance which amends the current township ordinance to conform with state law as promulgated by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

By adding sections of the state law to the township code it is hoped the township will continue its status as a separate exempt soil conservation district and avoid its merger into the Morris County Soil Conservation district. Many of the services which would be provided by county personnel already are provided by Township Engineer John Ruschke.

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