MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Township Committee passed Maplewood’s 2020 budget during its three-hour meeting on May 5, which included a visit from Congressman Donald Payne Jr. and a coronavirus update by Health Officer Candice Davenport.
This year’s budget of $48.2M works out to a four percent increase in local property taxes over last year.
“We did the best we could in cutting down on expenses,” said Committee Member Vic DeLuca, chair of the Finance Department. The budget “was in a great position, then COVID-19 hit and we [practically] had to start all over again.”
“The increase for the local portion of the tax” on an average Maplewood home valued at $500,000, he said, “will be about $165, or $14 a month.” The four percent is not an increase on total taxes, he reiterated, “just the portion that goes to the municipality, which is about 25 percent” of each homeowner’s property tax.
A few expense factors went into the increase, including $200,000 designated for a “robust program of infrastructure repairs” to local roads, sewers and public buildings. “We made a decision to stop kicking the can down the road and [we are] doing some of those repairs.”
Also, “we have already spent over $100,000 just responding to COVID-19.” DeLuca said hopefully there will be partial FEMA reimbursement, but he acknowledged it could be a few years down the road. New salary negotiations in collective bargaining agreements and a $250,000 increase in insurance expenses also increased the budget, he said.
The revenue side of the ledger has also been hurt by quarantine: local sources, which constitute over $10M in revenue, DeLuca said, are down so far this year. Payments to the Township in that category include fees paid for recreation, construction, jitney, and parking. With the state at a near standstill, “all those fees are taking an enormous hit” from COVID-19. Court fines and income from rental of municipal properties such as the Woodland are also down due to the shutdown.
DeLuca also stressed that “this is why the census is so very important to us. Because if we don’t have a real number of people who live in this town” when the federal government decides on aid, “we get shortchanged if all of our people aren’t counted.” He encouraged residents to nudge their neighbors — from six feet away, of course — to fill out the form online.
Rep. Payne also mentioned the census in his address to the community. “All of us must get the word out,” he said. He commended Maplewood’s high response rate: more than two-thirds of Maplewood’s residents have already responded, he said, but it is not enough until 100 percent have been counted. The self-response phase has been extended to Oct. 31.
The thrust of his remarks was to let Maplewood know that “we’ve been fighting for the residents of the 10th District in Washington during this pandemic. We’ve been successful in getting some monies and relief…but we need to do more.”
He said that among the Congressional Representatives in Washington, “there’s not a delegation that works together like New Jersey…. We are all on the same page.”
He said the next CARES aid package “will be tighter,” as he wants to close loopholes in aid for small businesses so that larger businesses can’t “take advantage of it. As we move forward we’ll evolve that legislation to make sure we’ll have the oversight we need… We’re very diligently working on relief for the American people.”
Payne said he would work hard for the small businesses of Maplewood, in part dear to him for the time he has spent in town with his relatives. The next aid package will address business like those on Springfield Avenue, he said, and in Maplewood Village. “Restaurants and small businesses need the opportunity to access these dollars.”
He also said he is working on getting hazard pay for essential federal workers; getting medical equipment and PPE for the state; and getting rental assistance for renters.
Payne also took written questions from residents who voiced concerns about the difficulties in applying for and securing unemployment benefits and small business loans and grants. “We are on the job to help you get what you need,” he said, and asked that those constituents who need help check his website, payne.house.gov, for guidance and links, or call his office at 973-645-3213.
The recording of the Township meeting is available on YouTube.
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