WOODLAND PARK, NJ - Mayor Keith Kazmark introduced the 2017 municipal budget at the Woodland Park council meeting on Feb. 15.
Municipal taxes under the proposed spending plan are expected to increase by $66 for a home assessed at the borough average of $345,741. The approximate average tax amount to be paid for the year to the borough is $2,608.
Kazmark explained that primary increases consist of $105,000 for salary and wages, which include eight Department of Public Works employees and 11 police officers hitting step increases this year. Other contributing factors to the increase were $238,000 in health benefits and $41,000 in health department services, through a newly shared services agreement with the county.
According to Kazmark, salary and wages sustained increases due to contractual obligations with regard to steps which resulted in an 8 percent increase.
"With regard to the police department, we have 11 police officers who will also see step increases this year," he explained. "So when you look at a 25 member police department and nearly less than half of the department receiving stepping increases and a 16 member DPW, with eight of those employees receiving stepping increases, there is a significant increase in salary there. Fortunately, we saw some retirements last year and we will see one retirement this year, which will provide some relief for the public works and police department."
He also discussed the rise in healthcare costs, which he called the "biggest challenge" for the municipality.
"We unfortunately have no control over health insurance increases, but this year, our DPW, clerical and dispatchers will begin to contribute to their healthcare costs. Our police department is in its third year of contributing to their healthcare costs, so those contributions they are forced to make under statue, we'll see some breakage over the next four years due to what the employees are contributing over healthcare," he said.
Additionally, Kazmark said the borough is offering multiple and diverse health plans for its employees.
"We now have four plans and are in the third year of contributions. I believe we'll see employees make changes to their healthcare plan, which will not only reduce what they earn from their paycheck from what they earn but will also reduce the cost of the municipality," he explained, adding that the municipality is aiming to offer less expensive plans to meet the different needs of employees.
"There have been multiple options that have been brought to the table to help reduce healthcare costs and we'll continue to explore those moving forward," he added.
He also discussed operating expenses, adding that there have been little to no increases over the last number of years.
"We cannot predict what kind of snowfall we are going to receive or how many sewer main or water main breaks we'll experience during the course of the year. So those are definitely estimates."
The third increase, according to Kazmark, is with health services. The borough recently entered in a shared services agreement with Passaic County. Kazmark noted that the prior shared services contract with the City of Paterson was not meeting the current needs of the municipality.
"After reviewing proposals with the City of Clifton and County of Passaic, I made a decision to get into a services agreement with the County of Passaic in order to provide health department services to the municipality, in response to the needs of the community."
A nominal increases is set for the local library's operating budget, which now stands at $15,660. The amount is statutory and is based on the value of the municipality.
"We are obligated to provide services to the community from the library," Kazmark said. "I don't have to tell you that our library does a wonderful job. I believe that money will be well spent and if it's not spent, it will be folded over into the capital account."
Kazmark said the budget proposed was reasonable and even keeled, and would set the pace for balanced budgets for 2018 and beyond.
Municipal auditor Steven Wilcox also spoke on behalf of the budget proposal. Wilcox called the budget consistent and that a five year budget projection plan is in the works for the municipality. He said many counties in the state cited salaries and health benefits as the main drivers of costs increases to municipal budgets this year.
Council members passed a resolution for changes to be made to the municipal zoning ordinance, which includes changes to the subdivision and site plan ordinance. Kathryn Gregory, of Gregory Associates, LLC, the town's planner, gave a presentation to the council prior to a public hearing.
The zoning ordinance was originally created in 1979 and sustained a series of "add-ons" over the past 38 years, according to officials, and many sections were in need of updating to address new uses, definitions and modern-day parking standards.
The purpose of this rezoning was to simplify and bring up to date the zoning ordinance for ease of reference and development," said Council President Gary Holloway.