LIVINGSTON, NJ — The Livingston mayor and council unanimously adopted the 2017 municipal budget on Monday with a local purpose tax-rate increase of 1.9 percent—or an estimated increase of $53.35 for the average Livingston homeowner.
This budget, which the council said was “prepared with the primary objective of providing quality services at an affordable price to maintain fiscal stability in accordance with the township’s financial policies,” was approved on March 20, has been advertised since then, and was made available to residents desiring printed copies.
The mayor and council thanked Acting Township Manager Russ Jones, newly appointed Chief Financial Officer Kim Kientz, all of the township department heads—including the fire and police departments, the library, recreation and more—for coming together to present a budget with as minimal tax increase as possible.
When all appropriations are considered, the total municipal budget is $43,801,489, increasing the tax rate by less than $5 per month to the average home of $600,000, while at the same time maintaining all services that Livingston residents hope to have preserved.
“This budget not only preserves our municipal services, but also continues to invest in the community through important infrastructure improvements—water, sewer and roads,” said Councilman Rudy Fernandez. “We think that’s something that’s important for the community.”
“There are some things as an elected councilman that we can and some things we can’t,” said Councilman Al Anthony. “We can’t control the county taxes, we can’t control the board of ed taxes, but we can control the municipal part and less than $5 a month going forward this year is an accomplishment.”
Anthony said the council was able to accomplish this by asking the department heads what was needed rather than desired, and said the department heads were “terrific” in “tightening their belts.”
“They came in with everything that was reasonable that allowed us to do our job and keep taxes low,” said Anthony. “It’s something that every council person up here gets elected on. I’m proud of this budget.”
Anthony also noted the benefits of initiating interlocal agreements and open communication with other towns for shared services, such as the upcoming animal shelter renovations in conjunction with the Village of South Orange.
Echoing Anthony, Councilman Michael Silverman reiterated that the council only controls 17 percent of the residents’ tax bill. He said the municipal budget is tight and that Kientz and Jones—having stepped in shortly after the previous township manager was relieved of her duties and the previous CFO retired—did a great job.
He also said that in order to come back next year with the most up-to-date numbers, the council hopes to have a six-month review with the departments heads in July to determine what has been accomplished thus far and what still needs to be done.
“The future is bright for this community,” he said. “There are always going to be things that people question and times that people disagree with what this council does. But I know as one of the five that we are all working for the best interest of Livingston, I know that the county is always working in the best interest of the county of which we are part. I ask and hope that the board of education does the same and for them to look at six-month intervals as well.”
Councilman Fernandez and Deputy Mayor Ed Meinhardt reiterated these comments, as well as the fact that expenses are lower than last year and that the council will continue its efforts to reduce these expenses as much as possible.
“Our budget always reflects what the community’s priorities are and it’s important that we look to see what the residents want the township to provide and how we can put them into the budget,” said Fernandez. “There are a number of things in this year’s budget that we’ve been working on for a while.”
Some of these projects include shared services with the board of education to improve the tennis court improvements, funding for a replacement rescue truck, new police vehicles, baseball field repairs and more.
Additionally, Fernandez said the council continues to fund budget reserves to minimize the impact of any unforeseen circumstances on a future budget.
“I, too, am very proud of this year’s budget,” said Meinhardt. “All of this was done without cutting any services this year, and actually we added services—we added a full-time adaptive rec coordinator, we re-did our softball and baseball fields, our tennis courts will be redone as well this year, and a lot of good things came out of this budget without cutting any of our services.”
Mayor Shawn Klein said the budget reflects the main goals of the council as well as the priorities of the town and added that he is most looking forward to the website and township mobile application being completed during this calendar year.