SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – At the Council Business Meeting on Tuesday evening a lively discussion covered several major issues, from the municipal budget to the future of the Special Improvement District (SID).
As budget discussions began, Mayor Kevin Glover stated that a 1.26 percent increase is the lowest tax increase in his 7 years tenure with the town council and he is hoping to present an even lower tax increase next year. “I believe that partnering with Fanwood to save money through shared services is the answer. All of us are living on lean budgets… the municipal budget is no different from that,” Glover said.
A resolution was put forward to request the Division of Local Government Services to permit the Township of Scotch Plains to use a three-year tax collection rate average to calculate the 2013 Reserve for Uncollected Taxes.
Councilman Bo Vastine questioned if any advantage would incur with using a three year versus a two year average, and to what if any detriment? According to Councilman Lou Beckerman, “there is very little difference between the three and two year average.”
Vastine also expressed concerns over taking another 100k from the sewer fee and putting it in the general operation budget. “Not everyone who pays the sewer fee pays property tax. It’s a gimmick. By using such a big chunk we’re creating uncertainty in the future and it’s not a very prudent way to manage the budget.”
However, all other members of the Council supported the move to return a portion of the surplus to the general Municipal Budget.
Vastine went on to outline how more and more people were appealing their property taxes which would bring down revenue, making it necessary to cut services to maintain costs under the 2 percent cap. “The most bothersome cut is the 100k cut to the public library and what’s happened in the past is we’ve had to close the library on certain days… we have the room in our budget.”
Mayor Glover countered Vastine’s comments concerning the cut to the library. “If you look, $84,000 is the actual library figure, not $100,000," he said. "Moreover, the state cut the library budget by $50,000. Last year the town gave $20,000 more out of the budget towards filling that gap. They closed during the summertime because their air conditioning units failed, not for any other reason. We didn’t cut the library… the state did.”
Gialanella said most of what Vastine brought up in the meeting had been discussed in prior Council meetings. “We need to be more creative and more reasonable as far as bringing in more county services. Further burdening property owners in this economy is not the answer. We need to provide better services and more reasonable rates towards meeting the needs of this economy.”
A further hearing to allow for any budget objections and tax resolutions will be scheduled and the adoption of the municipal budget will take place on May 21. “The public is welcome and encouraged to participate and offer suggestions to the Council,” said Glover.
SID Chairman Dominick Verdic delivered a revised budget which was presented to the council for the first time at the April 2 meeting. “We wanted to show the council that something has been done with the budget,” he said. Verdic expressed difficulty with getting “thirteen SID members to agree on everything.” However, the budget numbers were more “guesstimates” than actual firm figures.
Deputy Mayor Colleen Gialanella said, “what more can we do than belabor the conversation? It’s been discussed in several meetings already… we spent more time talking about the SID budget than the municipal budget - when are we being presented with a final budget?”
Once a SID Budget is approved and improvements to the downtown are made, the concern is how to keep up with those improvements if all current money is spent in 2013. “If we do show an impact on the town… how do we show another impact on the town in 2014?” asked Verdic.
“If the SID creates the budget, and fails and blows themselves up… it’s not our position to tell you how to run your organization,” said Vastine. “Our council should not interfere - It is counter-productive.”
The SID budget was tabled for a later date.