EDISON, NJ — Councilman Richard Brescher requested the creation of a Committee of the Whole during the January Edison Town Council meeting. He wants to have financial and tax experts review Edison’s budget.

Brescher recalled, “There was not enough council support for it, but I was promised by fellow council members that they would call in the finance and tax experts to answer all of my questions publicly, so the public could see the revenue side and cost side of our budget.” He said that no financial or tax specialists attended council meetings or addressed his questions.

He had hoped that forming a Committee of the Whole or an Ad Hoc Committee formed early in the year would have helped the council to “reduced taxes significantly less, or we would have found the tax increases to be justified.”

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Brescher explained, The Committee of the Whole has full investigative powers, and unlike other Committee of the Wholes that were formed in the past, this falls right under the council’s jurisdiction.”  

Brescher added that a Committee of the Whole has “full investigative authority,” whereas an Ad Hoc Committee may be restricted in its ability to perform.”

The definition of Committee of the Whole, according to dictionary.com, is “the entire membership of a legislative body, sitting in a deliberative rather than a legislative capacity, for informal debate and preliminary consideration of matters awaiting legislative action.”

Brescher said a Committee of the Whole will provide transparency for the public by exploring town finances and determining which type of improvements can be made. He’s also interested in comparing how other municipalities are handling town expenses.

The council vote for the 2020 municipal budget was almost split in half, with Councilmen Joseph Coyle, Sam Joshi, and Ajay Patil voting against it and Brescher, Council President Joyce Ship-Freeman, Councilmen Robert Diehl, and Alvaro Gomez voting affirmatively.

The council approved the $150.22 million municipal budget during the meeting on September 9. The budget will be partially funded by $97.65 million in taxes from Edison’s residential and commercial property taxes.

The township expects $1.55 million in funds from the CARES Act for coronavirus costs, plus $500,000 in construction fees (which weren’t included in the original budget in June).

The 2019 budget totaled $144.35 million, including a $92.13 million tax levy. The total budget increase is $5.87 million with an increase of $5.52 million taxes on residents.

In 2020, the municipal tax rate is $2.22 per $100 of assessed valuation. The average home value is $180,400, so municipal taxes will be $175 higher than in 2019. The average municipality tax will be $2,475.09.

Municipal taxes comprise 24.26% of property taxes, the rest of the money raised by taxes goes to schools, the county and the libraries.

Diehl is concerned that a Committee of the Whole will be a long process because the last couple have met for approximately one and a half years each. He prefers an Ad Hoc committee.

Joshi feels that the Committee of the Whole will prove to be expensive due to attorney fees.

Other Committees of the Whole, like the one formed to probe racist fliers, cost $25,000. Brescher noted that Edison has around 100,000 residents so it’s crucial to ensure that the budget is sound.

Brescher, Ship-Freeman, Coyle and Patil voted affirmatively for the Committee of the Whole. Diehl and Joshi voted against it. Gomez abstained from the vote because he said he needed more information.

The other Committee of the Whole was formed in 2011 to probe (then) Mayor Antonia Ricigliano’s budget and employee demotions and layoffs.