Livingston Resident Suggests Town Council Form Committee to Provide Residents with Independent Review of Board of Education Budget

Livingston Mayor Rudy Fernandez presents a proclamation designating January as Radon Action Month to Township Health Educator Dolores Keller.

LIVINGSTON, NJ - Although Livingston’s Board of Education budget was approved by township voters last year, residents still need an “independent voice” to review Board of Education spending should the budget ever be defeated and come before the Township Council for review, at least according to one resident.

Barry Funt told the council Monday evening that residents only get an analysis of school district spending from the superintendent of schools and other school officials and the township governing body, which would review any spending plan defeated by voters, also only gets input from school officials.

Mayor Rudy Fernandez wanted to know if Funt wanted the council to “form a committee to pour through every page of the school budget.”

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Deputy Mayor Steven A. Santola also cautioned that there are specific statutory prohibitions barring the council from becoming involved in school board matters, and added in communities where the Board of Education has become politicized, school districts have suffered.

If residents want to know more about the school budget they should show their concern by showing up in greater numbers at Board of Education elections, Councilman Gary Schneiderman added, noting only about 3,000 Livingston residents voted in last April’s school poll.

Santola said the council and board often have discussed management of athletic facilities, and Schneiderman noted the board and governing body are considering a possible joint Public Works Department facility that would shield school busses from the weather.

In any event, according to Township Manager Michele Meade, should a school budget be defeated, the council can only suggest cuts in the spending plan and these cuts can be restored by the New Jersey Commissioner of Education.

Meade’s own financial situation was questioned by resident John Anderson at Monday’s meeting.

Anderson claimed Meade was hired in 2005 at a salary of $140,000, received a 22% increase to $170,000 by July, 2006 and now was making more than Governor Chris Christie.

Santola replied Meade’s salary had been reviewed after six months and a year, per the agreement under which she was hired and various Town Councils had approved her increases.

Meade added Anderson was quoting a maximum salary in a salary ordinance at a level at which she was never actually paid.

It was not fair, Fernandez said, to compare the salary of a professional who was dedicating her career to a position to that of an elected official who only would serve one or two terms in one office before moving onto higher office and probably making millions of dollars more.

The council also gave preliminary approval to the 2011 budget for the Livingston Community Partnership Corporation. Final adoption is expected after a public hearing on Monday, February 28.

Officials of the corporation, which manages the township’s Business Improvement District, told the council at the conference session prior to the public meeting that total income for the BID was estimated at $342,500 and debt service would be $104,816.

On January 25, they added, several BID restaurants would offer discount pizza along with a raffle to win an iPad, and business owners will receive training in social networking on Facebook and Twitter to promote their businesses. This also could help fill some of the vacant office space in the downtown, they noted.

Possible introduction of a revised sign ordinance also could take place on Monday, January 24.

Santola said revisions to the sidewalk sign regulations might be included with rules on uniformity, size, location and the number of signs in the downtown area to be formulated by BID management.

Limitations on grand opening signs also will be included in the revised ordinance, he said.

The council also authorized increases in reserves for accumulated absences, self-insurance and snow removal.

Meade said the town increases its reserves to even out budgetary increases over a number of years to avoid sporadic increases and decreases. The amount of the increases will not be determined until the council holds its 2011 budget discussions later this year, she added.

The mayor added one of the reasons for increasing the snow removal reserves is to provide for years during which there is a large, unexpected snowfall.

Council Member Deborah E. Shapiro, speaking about the transfer of 2010 appropriation reserves, said she would like to see more planning for replacement of police vehicles rather than the $85,000 that was included for transfer for that purpose at the end of last year.

In another action, the mayor presented a declaration of January as Radon Action Month to Township Health Educator Dolores Keller to remind residents to have their home tested for the odorless substance that could prove deadly.

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