FLEMINGTON, NJ – The Flemington Community Partnership submitted its draft budget to Borough Council last night, offering a glimpse into the FCP’s future plans.
The FCP is a business improvement district that is funded by a special property tax assessed on businesses and some multi-unit homes within the designated business improvement area.
FCP Executive Director Robin Lapidus announced that her group has abandoned its plan to help fund a movie theater in the borough. She said she removed from the budget “money for the movie theater because I don’t think that’s on our wish list at the moment.”
The biggest surprise in her announcement was that the FCP had ever been saving money for a cinema. Lapidus’ predecessor said funding for the hoped-for project would come from outside the FCP budget.
Under the draft plan, total revenue is expected to increase 2.2 percent, from $546,000 last year to $558,000 this year. Total expenses are up 3.84 percent from $529,393 to $549,710.
Lapidus said she hopes FCP can raise more revenue from grants and sponsorships, and that it plans more events at the old Historic Courthouse and more staging of Music on Main Street.
Staff salaries are down 4.1 percent under the draft plan, to $181,000. But professionals’ costs are up more than 29 percent to $14,000.
“Our accounting, legal, HR, auditing and external bookkeeping fees are up, and I think that’s all really just good business practice,” Lapidus said. “That’s where you need to spend your money to make sure you’re spending your money correctly.”
Resident Lois Stewart asked if FCP expenditures later come to the Council for approval. Mayor Betsy Driver answered that once the budget is approved “it’s approved.”
FCP Board member Andy Cohen said Council approves the budget “and we run the thing.”
“When thinking about the budget … every single detail in the line items … may not spell out exactly what we’re going to do,” said Tim Bebout, and FCP Board member and the owner of Main Street Manor. “The strategic plan is directed at that. We’re always open, we always consult our stakeholders in many different ways in different sessions, to form the best strategic plan and use the dollars that we have.”
But the stakeholders, Bebout explained in an interview, are the businesses that pay into the FCP, not the borough’s residents in general. That’s consistent with FCP Board Chair Bob King, who has said the FCP is accountable to those businesses, and that’s who gets to ask questions. For those reasons, not all meetings of the FCP board are open to the public or announced in advance, he said.
“We’re transparent, we really care about the community,” Bebout said. “That’s why we issue press releases, so that the public who are not stakeholders know what we are doing.”
But Robert Shore, who is a “stakeholder” told Lapidus, “I am not happy with this budget.”
One of Shore’s biggest complaints is that the budget – which will be subject to a public hearing on Nov. 9 – isn’t submitted sufficiently in advance to allow public input.
Shore said “the problem with this whole way of operating” is that by Dec. 9 “you guys are going to want to pass it,” he told Council. “Now is the time to make the comments so the budget can get changed so it’s palatable to everybody else.
“The way it is right now, sorry FCP, I’m not satisfied,” Shore said. “As taxpayers and a huge funder of the business improvement district, I want to be heard.”
Council President Michael Harris agreed and told Shore, “In support of your statement, we only just received this budget.”
“We need to be smart about how we’re spending our money. I’m investing a helluva lot of money in Flemington and I want to know that my investment is creating more assets, not one-off” events,” Shore said.
But even if not all FCP Board meetings are open to the public, Lapidus said, “I’m generally very collaborative and like a lot of input. I’m happy to hear what people think.” Previously, Lapidus explained that members of the all-volunteer FCP Board simply don't always have the time to attend regular public Board meetings, so meetings are held "electronically" instead.
“We serve many masters,” Lapidus told Council. “Everyone feels their need is the greatest need. Unfortunately, we receive teary phone calls from business owners almost every day … we’ve had people call us crying to say they’re going out of business. And some of them did … when you don’t have density of people, people live by events. We actually have to import people to an event, to an attraction.”
The FCP’s draft budget and strategic plan are posted to its website.
Editor's note: This artilce has been updated to show that the public hearing on the FCP budget will be held Dec. 9.