SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – Despite a highly debated discussion at the Scotch Plains Council Business Meeting on Tuesday evening, the proposed $4.2 million capital budget was approved for introduction in a party-line 4-1 vote. The final vote on the capital expenses will be on May 17.
The 2016 operating budget, which was introduced earlier this month with its tax reduction, was approved unanimously.
Llewellyn Jones, the lone Republican on the governing body, provided the only vote against the ordinance. Democrats Rose Checchio, Colleen Gialanella, John Del Sordi and Mayor Kevin Glover voted in favor of it.
Meanwhile, the Council's proposed $24.8 million municipal budget with a zero percent tax increase was approved unanimously. Residents will see their household taxes decrease approximately $12 in the municipal component of the budget.
Township manager Al Mirabella, who reviewed the preliminary budget numbers with Township CFO Lori Majeski and the municipality’s department heads, delivered a presentation with his recommendations to the council.
Among the big ticket items discussed on the capital budget included:
- $1.2 million for a replacement tower ladder vehicle for the fire department
- $550,000 for renovations at the Shady Rest Country Club
- $495,000 towards the 2016 Roadwork Assistance Program
- Approximately $400,000 in new DPW vehicles
- $297,000 for equipment and vehicles for the police department
- $100,000 (with potential for more) towards the downtown development
Councilwoman Colleen Gialanella and Jones raised their concerns over the proposed capital budget. They suggested to table the vote until the next meeting to put more thought into the items only to be outvoted 3-2.
Jones called for a smaller capital ordinance with a goal of $1.9 million, saying that it’ll "cost Scotch Plains taxpayers much more money down the road beyond 2016 if we issue a high amount of bonds now with interest rates." He called the proposed capital budget to "election year economics."
Among the items that Jones proposed to move from the capital budget to the municipal budget included equipment and vehicles for the police department, and administration technology.
“You’re pretty much getting a $10 bill for a $420 credit debt,” Jones suggested of the proposed budget, which will get lost in the taxes when county and education taxes are factored in. “There is simply too much spending in the bond ordinances.”
Former Scotch Plains Mayor Nancy Malool agreed and voiced her fears during public comment that the proposed capital budget would ultimately cost taxpayers more money down the line.
In 2014, the council rejected a $1.5 million bond ordinance with both Glover and Gialanella voting against the measure.
Colleen Gialanella’s primary concern with the capital budget was that the town wasn’t allocating enough resources to the redevelopment of downtown Scotch Plains. Although the budget had been doubled, she suggested a bigger investment to have some "skin in the game." She proposed to increase the number to a quarter of a million dollars.
“We should govern with mission goals and everything that we do (on the Council) should be applied upon those items,” suggested Gialanella, who urged that the Council needs to be more visionary, especially as it relates to downtown development. “When I ran for office, my number one priority was to improve downtown and therefore increase the value of your home. It is extremely difficult to be a visionary leader with only $100,000.”
Scotch Plains Mayor Kevin Glover thanked Mirabella for the presentation, which he suggested offered a great deal of "clarity and brevity." He suggested that there "has never been firmer financial footing in town."
"The capital expenses address public safety, roads, infrustructure, and parks and recreation. These include the final money needed to upgrade the air conditioning of the library, replacement of a 30-year-old fire struck, final restoration of the Shady Rest clubhouse, fixing the DPW building roof, and significant road improvements in town," Mayor Glover expanded in a phone interview. "This budget deals with items that long ago should have been dealt with, and our township's firm financial footing allows us to address serious public safety issues that havee been overlooked in the past."
Councilwoman Gialanella, in a statement sent to TAPintoSPF, targeted Mayor Glover: "There are very legitimate needs in the capital bonds, items that should be purchased now through our adopted operating budget. Putting politics first, the mayor refused to listen to reason and has created a scenario where the only options come at a significant cost to our residents; an additional four million dollars of debt, or departments that will not have the tools they need to sufficiently serve our residents."
"Either is irresponsible. His refusal to work with the full Council has created an impossible scenario and a budget that clearly demonstrates his unwillingness to bring real improvements to our Downtown," added Councilwoman Gialanella, who voted in favor of introducing the capital budget on May 17.
“I don’t know if bond ratings are at an all-time low, but they are very low,” said a supportive Councilman John Del Sordi, who applauded Mirabella and township CFO Lori Majeski for their efforts. “Now is the time to get projects done.”
Earlier in the meeting, Mirabella suggested that residents will soon be able to pay their taxes online and via credit card. He expects that this feature will be available as earlier as July 2016.
During public comment, an emotional Steve Steinbergher was among the half dozen residents who expressed their gratitude to Mayor Glover and the Council for their efforts in prioritizing more than a half a million dollars in renovations at the historic Shady Rest Golf and Country Club, America's first black-owned golf course.
“We have a crown jewel here in town that is like (the Old Course at) St. Andrews in Scotland,” suggested Steinbergher, who fought back tears while speaking. “It’s important to preserve the history that we have here because once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”
To view the meeting, click here.