MADISON – In a joint prepared statement, Democratic candidates for Madison Borough Council Maureen Byrne and Jeff Gertler emphasize the need for long range capital planning that addresses the borough’s strategic goals and ensures adequate funding for investment in the borough’s aging infrastructure. 

The candidates stated: “Cost effective, timely upkeep and the replacement of aging infrastructure demand both a forward-looking plan and adherence to it. The plan must include a schedule of specific projects and income to pay for them.  Projects must not continue to roll out on an ad hoc basis as they often had in the recent past. 

Much of Madison’s infrastructure is old and will need repair or replacement over the next few years. The most evident problem had been the quality of our road surfaces.  Although still not entirely solved, Madison roads have definitely improved recently thanks to road improvement projects paid for out of capital and maintenance by our DPW employees. Unfortunately old pump stations, water mains and the joint Madison-Chatham waste water treatment facility all appear to be in need of significant replacement and repair. We need to plan for these projects with money in hand or secured future revenue.”

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Byrne added, “There are interrelated systematic activities that comprise a successful capital plan.  The borough needs to determine scope and if there is genuine need for each specific project.  Projects then need to be prioritized with short and long range schedules, and finally financing needs to be structured accordingly.  In our experience strategic capital plans go out approximately five years.

Several years ago, the Republican majority on council authorized spending to repave Green Ave in 2011 without having first applied for state matching funds.  This meant that the borough would have had to pay the full cost of the project.  Due to a lack of planning, the project had to be deferred and construction will now begin this year.  Fortunately after supplementary planning, the project will go forward with an NJDOT grant for $230,000, reducing Madison’s contribution by almost 1/3.”

Gertler observed that “historically, capital plans have been conducted annually by our Borough engineer. Although ad hoc and emergency projects seem to materialize more often than we believe is desirable, we recognize that at least some of this volatility is unavoidable. We are committed to working with the other members of the Council to draw up a unified list of projects and work with the Borough engineer on prioritization. But that is only one part of the equation.

The other part, financing these projects, has been an ongoing issue. For a long time, the source of money for capital projects had been the electric utility surplus. However, in recent years the surplus has declined and during the past two years, $500,000 of budgeted capital came from Fund Balance (unused revenue from aborted projects) and the rest from non-recurring revenue, such as the sale of borough property.

The sources for budgeted capital are essential. If they are stable, then we can have confidence in our future plans.  However if they are not, then some serious alternative sources have to be identified to make up any shortfall. Looking forward, the only obvious sources for additional capital are future electric utility surpluses and the development of the former Green Village Road School property.

Although these two sources may prove adequate, neither is a done deal, making it difficult to predict how much each source will generate.   New lower priced contracts for electricity should result in a greater surplus but that will not be fully realized until 2015.  Moreover, a number of alternative worthwhile uses for those funds have already surfaced and we expect more to come.  As for Green Village Road School property, that sale has not yet closed. Once it does, the advantage to the Borough will come from receipt of a portion of the property taxes and construction fees. But there are some critical steps that have to come first.”  

Byrne and Gertler concluded “the Borough needs a well thought out multi-year capital plan covering both expenditures and revenue.  Thinking we will find a new revenue source when the time comes “to pay the bill” is not a plan, it is wishful thinking. We therefore support Mayor Conley in establishing a committee to begin the process of strategic planning for various aspects of our Borough’s activities and we encourage them to begin with capital planning. We believe we can contribute to the process and look forward to shaping a better financial planning process.”