Little Falls Passes Its Budget, Appoints Benitez for Council

Pictured is former Councilwoman Mercedes Gonzales, local volunteer firefighter Mike Murphy, and Little Falls Republican Organization Chairman Donald Radcliffe. Credits: Tina Pappas

LITTLE FALLS, NJ - The Township of Little Falls adopted its 2017 municipal budget at Monday night's council meeting.

The council approved its total operating budget expense of $17,434,736 for this year, a decrease of $25,820 the prior year's amount of 17,460.556.

Mayor James Damiano, who formally introduced the spending plan earlier this month, touted the decrease in the total amount despite municipal expenses continuing to rise. He also highlighted an anticipated surplus of $400,000 from the 2016 budget, which was applied to the 2017 budget, for the purpose of tax rate stabilization.

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This year's budget has residents sustaining a $61 increase in municipal taxes this year for the property assessed at the township average of $303,700, bringing the municipal taxes up to $700,000. The amount to be raised by taxes if $12,339.428. He also emphasized that there was no wasteful spending in any operating costs.

Council member appointee
Council members chose from three Republican candidates to fill Councilman Joseph Maceri's unexpired seat and selected Mark Benitez, a resident since 2011, who was not present during the council meeting. Maceri stepped down from his post last month due to moving to Cedar Grove.

Little Falls Republican Organization Chairman Donald Radcliffe also presented Mercedes Gonzales, who previously served on the council for two years, along with newcomer Mike Murphy, a member of the Little Falls Fire Department for the past six years, as candidates.
Radcliffe spoke on behalf of Benitez, a resident of the township for six years, who was unable to attend the meeting because he was out-of-town on business. 
Councilwoman Maria Cordonnier and Councilman Chris Vancheri asked the candidates who were present questions to Gonzales and Murphy on several topics including the push towards transparency with the new governing body. Radcliffe responded for Benitez. Council members unanimously voted to appoint Benitez to fulfill the remaining time on the seat.
He's been in this town since 2011 and I think a lot of people might think that's a negative but sometimes you need a fresh outlook," said Cordonnier of Benitez. "He has a really strong academic and business background that might provide some skills to the board."
Benitez is currently the only Republican who sits on the council and will be sworn in at the next meeting. His seat, which expires at the end of this year, is up for reelection, along with Vancheri's seat this November.
COAH requirements
The township held a public hearing and passed a second reading of ordinances that were required by state Supreme Court in order to comply with Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) regulations.
The township last month became the first municipality in the county to receive a court judgment that prevents builders from suing the municipality on changing the zoning regulations. Resolutions were required by the court in order for the township to fulfill its position of the judgment made by the court, according to township administrator Charles Cuccia, who had said the township started early in order to complete the process.
Leslie London, former Little Falls Township attorney, who is working on the COAH obligation for the township, gave a presentation at the Feb. 27 council meeting. London explained during the meeting that there were a series of standard ordinances and resolutions that the court requires municipalities to adopt.
Regulation for e-cigarettes
Council members also passed an ordinance which would require vendors to be licensed for selling electronic cigarettes and/or vapor devices from the Clifton Health Department, which is in a shared services agreement with the township. Businesses would need to have license approval and pay a seller's fee.
Towns in Passaic Valley years have been trying to curb usage of the devices by underage minors and have been working towards regulating and monitoring the sale of the products to them.
The owner of a local convenience store in the area was arrested in connection with selling an e-cigarette to minor in 2015.

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