NUTLEY, NJ - Revenue and Finance Commissioner Thomas J. Evans gave a progress report on the 2018 municipal budget during the Jan. 2 Board of Commissioners public meeting.

“While our work continues on the 2018 budget we have talked about the fact that we had an almost $3 million budget issue for 2018. With the full support of the board of commissioners, who have control over their individual departments, the cooperation has been fantastic,” said Evans. “As today we are still looking at increase, but it’s down to $612,000. We were able to cut almost approximately $2.4 million of that problem so far. We have more work to do before we get close to introduce the budget,” he added.

Public Safety Commissioner Alphonse Petracco said, “Every time we have a retirement in public safety we are negotiating these salaries down.”

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Evans also said there will be some changes in the service such as garbage pick-up. For example, starting this year construction debris will no longer picked up by the township services.

“How do we reduce and eliminate the 2 percent increase for 2018, which was a 7 percent increase when we started,” Evans asked. … “This board only represents 35 percent of the tax bill, to run the five municipal departments, its 35 cents on the $1. The school board is roughly half and the county is the rest.  So 65 percent of that bill is not what this board controls,” said Evans.

Evans said having a town hall or forum will help residents understand what goes into the budget. According to Evans $31 million of the budget is fixed costs including bills for sewer, utility, electricity, as well as pension, healthcare and retiree healthcare expenses.

“To achieve $2.4 million [cut] so far is a monumental achievement, to in effect address cost control this board has been 100 percent aligned around since we started this,” said Evans.

‘Overcrowding’ addressed

According to Evans the school board is taking a zero percent approach to their budget. Their budget is approved by the county superintendent and the state. It’s no longer subject to municipal vote. “A forum would help people better understand what the full challenges as to why the school board was looking at a referendum to address the schools. It’s been collapsed to a single sound bite that says overcrowding… is due to apartments and that’s just not true,” he said.

“When you eliminate nine classrooms from half day kindergarten to full day kindergarten it stresses your infrastructure. When you have a classroom that can handle 35 students but because of special needs you can only put four or six students in that same size classroom you have infrastructure challenges. The changes to curricular structure where you’re looking at a more integrated curricular around math, science and English and all the classrooms especially at the grammar school level and it moves up to the middle school and high school level it creates infrastructure challenges. …It’s required by federal law for a special needs student to have a teacher and a teacher’s aide. ...For a teacher to teach on an integrated basis the demand is for a smaller classroom size to allow that teacher more access to those students or hire an aide for a larger classroom size,” said Evans.

“The issue is infinitely more complex than the soundbites out there […] to I think mislead the people that it’s because of apartments that the schools are overcrowded,” he said.

According to Evans the natural turnover of single family homes have a greater impact on the schools than apartments. He said most apartments built recently in Nutley are one bedroom. “Two thirds of the homes in Nutley are empty nesters and 18 percent are senior citizens. …We can’t put up a sign ‘single family home for sale, so long as you don’t have children.’… You are making it a terminally ill town because it will go out of existence,” he said.

Public Comment

Resident Tammy Rossi asked for a review of the master plan which was last reviewed in 2012 and requested the commissioners hold a town meeting for the residents to give input. Rossi also asked if there will be resolutions set up for density controls for the new development on the On3 site, formerly Hoffman-La Roche.

Mayor and Public Works Commissioner Joseph P. Scarpelli said, “The planning board had a subcommittee do a whole study on the mixed use. They have recommendations, we are having our planner look at the recommendations the board made… that’s being addressed the density issue.”

Evans explained that the plans have to be voted on by the zoning and planning boards before they can present it to the board of commissioners. “The zoning board of adjustments and the planning board are quasi-autonomous organizations under the municipal land use law. They have a significant amount of independence to make decisions. …They have to sit there as judges, they are not part of the application; they are not a witness to the application. …As a commissioner, because we are elected officials, we have a lot of restraints what we can say and do about an application that is pending because of the law that’s in place to protect their independence,” he said.

Scarpelli added, “The planning board and zoning board and the board of commissioners have an annual meeting once a year and the board of education was at the meeting last year and I’m sure they will be this year.”

The next Board of Commissioners meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 6.

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