MADISON, NJ – Budget season has taken over the bulk of recent Madison Council meetings. At the Monday, Feb. 27 meeting, Mayor Robert Conley asked for a motion and vote on a $1.5 million adjustment. “We get great services for our taxes,” he said.  The council voted 5-0. Councilman Robert Landrigan was not present.

The proposed budget is expected to have a 2%  increase in property taxes for the average home, but that tax would be higher for new ratables, according to Chief Financial Officer James Burnet.  Burnet said there were minor changes, including a $1 million annual electric rate adjustment. Residents could see a dividend on their electric bills as a result.  Burnet estimates new construction will generate $121,000 in municipal revenue. He said the Green Village Road project will be Madison’s second highest tax payer. The overall budget increase, he said, is “a manageable 1.86%.”

Other areas he highlighted as good news are a revised five-year capital plan, over $7 million in capital funding, including a $1 million Central Avenue water main project; expanded reliance on predicable revenues and reduction in use of utility surplus to fund operations.

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Burnet said the rates for the water utility are significantly lower than communities that rely on American Water Service. An electric rebate program has seen an increase to 380 applications in 2016 with a rebate of $150 per household. “It’s an extremely successful program for Madison’s most needy residents,” he said.

Burnet noted a reduction in operating expenses came from state health plan contributions by employees, who now contribute 30 to 35% through a contract with Bloomfield for health services.

Burnet emphasized the role Strategic Planning Guidelines played in predictable revenues and that council should consider the ‘right’ amount of general capital, whether various services should be enhanced or reduced, what is the ‘right’ amount of taxes and what should be done with the electric utility surplus.

Resident Tom Bintinger said of the Strategic Plan, now in its 2nd year, that “time changes and circumstances change” and that parameters should be revisited. He also thanked the council for its support of the library, which he said is “a wonderful community service” and that the building is 50 years old.

Resident John Hoover said Burnet’s presentation was impressive and important and urged council members to encourage more presence by the public at its meetings.  He questioned the electric utility dividend, saying it would appear that the council takes it away, and then gives it back, which should lead to a reduction in cost.

“This is a wonderful budget,” Council member Carmela Vitale said. “I’m very, very pleased.” She said the attention to infrastructure, such as the culvert on Elm Street, was paying off.

Council member Ben Wolkowitz noted the budget was “more accessible to residents” and that Burnet worked with the Strategic Plan guidelines, which was something new, “and ran with it.”

Council member Patrick Rowe said he takes the budget seriously and likes the idea of seeing surplus guidelines year over year. New council member Maureen Byrne said she found the budget guidelines very helpful and it was “an edifying experience.”

Council member Astri Baillie noted that residents have the right to appeal property taxes and that this was the eighth budget presentation. She anticipates the budget will be introduced on March 13. The budget would be adopted in April.

Earlier in the evening, Mayor Conley gave proclamations for an End Hunger Day on March 27 and an International Day of Happiness on March 11, which deals with mental health awareness and a ‘Paint the Town Yellow’ theme.

The mayor also commended the Fire Department, Police, Ambulance Corp, Mutual Aid and Red Cross for their prompt response during a downtown apartment fire on Jan. 19.  He said the fire could have spread to other buildings, but the cooperation of neighboring fire departments helped control the flames and there were no injuries.

Conley also mentioned the Peace March on March 23 with students from Drew University, Fairleigh Dickinson and St. Elizabeth in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King and Black History Month, culminating in a candle light vigil. “It was about peace, not a protest,” he said.