LITTLE FALLS, NJ - Mayor James Damiano introduced his 2017 municipal budget in a presentation at the Feb. 13  Little Falls council meeting. The figures were presented to the council for their review.

A home assessed at the township average of $303,700 will pay $2,520 this year, an increase of $61 from $2,459 from the previous year. Damiano said the tax rate, if the budget passes as proposed, will be a $0.02 increase per $100 of assessed valuation, over the 2016 budget.

A combination of salary increased for administration and police, including police and fire pension costs, contributed to the increase, as well two new police vehicles which will be purchased through the vehicle acquisition program.

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The aim is to gradually acquire two vehicles per year over a five year period rather than purchasing no vehicles and then having to purchase multiple vehicles within a short time and have that hit the budget, according to Damiano. He added that the extended vehicle warranty for all the vehicles in town, which was removed last year, is being reinstated at $2,500 per vehicle.

"The use that these vehicles constantly get, with police responding to emergencies and having to get there quickly, the warranties will allow us to repair them," Damiano added. "A vehicle over 35,000 miles up to the 100,000 mile mark is probably to require maintenance and putting a $2,500 cap on those vehicles, we hope to save the township money in doing that."

The 2017 budget anticipates maintaining the current level of 28 staff members in the police department and 13 staff members at the Department of Public Works. Insurance costs are up $92,000 over last year. Emergency medical services are budgeted at $310,150, with offsetting revenue of $225,000.

Damiano reviewed some other budget highlights, which include an anticipated surplus of $400,000 for the 2017 budget being paid for from the 2016 tax year.

"We have an approximate surplus of $800,000 and half of that is being applied to this year's budget," he said.

Additionally, library taxes entail $537,475 for 2017 by statute and assessed property values increased by $6,798,100.

"This is a positive thing for the municipality and this is the first time we've had an increase in Little Falls in the past four years," he said, referring to the increase in assessed property values.

Other highlights include an administrative cost increase set to reflect a 1.85 percent base increase.

"The appropriations have been set to reflect anticipated salary increases in the Teamsters Bargaining Unit Contract, which is retroactive to 2016 with a 1.75 and 1.5 percent increase in 2016 and 2017, respectively," Damiano explained.

The budget also includes the average public employee retirement system cost to reflect a per employee cost of approximately $8,187.47. A change to an administrative position from part-time to full-time in the police department was also reflected. The position is under the administration and does not fall under the police department, he emphasized, and aims to keep police duties rather than administrative duties. Salaries for police have been incorporated into the 2017 budget in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement at 1.85 percent increase this year. Police and fire pension costs reflect, per officer, the amount $21,642.82.

The current proposed appropriations amount stands at $8,298,445.

"What that includes is all of the municipality's operating expenses from all of the departments and divisions," he added. "We have a reserve for uncollected taxes of $900,000, which includes a shortfall of taxes we would collect throughout the year. In the event there are shortfalls of payments of taxes (residences or businesses), the municipality would still be able to make all of its payments  required to make without having to borrow money. This is a reserve for us to borrow against in the event of a shortfall."

Debt service stands at $2,284,760, which includes payments for bonds, notes and principal interest.

"It has to do with everything that we've taken in the past in this municipality so we're paying that back at the rate of almost 2.3 million dollars this year," he explained.

The total amount of the township's salaries is $5,951,531. Budget revenue through permits, surplus through fees charged to Montclair State University, and other application fees, are expected to bring in $5,095,308.

The funds expected to be raised by taxes is $12,339,428. Damiano also spoke regarding the local municipal tax rate.

"We have a budget that's $3,409 under the tax levy cap, and under the appropriations cap by $123.378, and that is the allowable amount to be raised by taxes," he said, adding that they are funds that cannot be banked or carried forward to the following years and having the amount at a small number is actually beneficial for the town. 

"These are funds that we keep in case there is an emergency, a horrible year for snow or whether we have a flooding emergency. That is money that can be used if need be to help assist and with any expenses that we'd have associated with that."

The municipal taxes projected for 2017 are 83 cents per $100 dollar valuation, which in comparison to the 2016 year was at 81 cents, amounting to a 2 cent increase over the previous year.

"We welcome the increase for home values, and it's finally showing that the market and Little Falls is bouncing back and now we're looking for a strong financial future in the town," he said.

The budget introduction is set for Feb. 27, and a public hearing and adoption for the budget is set for March 27.