MADISON, NJ – A resolution to adopt budget guidelines for 2016 was pulled from the consent agenda at the Monday, July 13, borough council meeting because of the need for further discussion.
The council ultimately voted in favor of the resolution in a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Kenneth Rowe casting the negative vote.
“The budget is a living, moving document,” Attorney Matthew Giacobbee said and a resolution can be re-adopted every year. “It gives methodology, while an ordinance requires a second reading.” He said future governing bodies might need flexibility for setting the budget,. “Things change, state aid, utilities, CAPS. A resolution gives discretion to future councils.”
Councilman Rowe, however, said an ordinance would allow the public to come back for a second hearing. He also said the Strategic Plan should have a set of goals rather than simply guidelines for the next five years. “The resolution doesn’t accomplish any of that,” he said.
Ben Wolkowitz, who organized the Strategic Planning Committees, said many meetings were held, with the public invited to review the guidelines. “Prior to these guidelines, the council operated without a framework,” he said. As finance liaison, he said, he found that no one knew how much municipal surplus would be appropriate. “Now, we’ve found that 20 to 25% is appropriate.” He was concerned, he said, about a more opaque budget process. In addition, he said, if the committees set goals that would give control to what should be the council’s responsibility. “We would be giving up a lot of power to the committees,” he said.
Councilman Robert Catalanello said the guidelines can change every year “to fit the budget we pass. We need a more serious framework.” He said he could see both sides of the issue. While he’d like to vote no, he would probably vote yes, he said of the resolution.
Giacobbee said in comparing the last 20 years to the last two or three years, that much progress had been made in the budget process. “If a problem from one of the departments or other staff comes up, that would go to the governing body. The council should not give up its decision making power.”
Councilwoman Carmela Vitale said, “This is a first step and something we have not had before. It’s a place where we can at least start for the 2016 budget.”
Wolkowitz said, “The council has to make very difficult decisions. The way the resolution is written, we would have to justify why we would make a major change in any of the guidelines. We can’t hold out for perfection. At least we have a start.”
Mayor Robert Conley concluded, “Some towns avoid this topic. We’re doing as much as possible to be responsible to the voters. It’s a great step forward.”
He thanked the council members for their “spirited discussion.”