SPARTA, NJ – The municipal budget was passed by a 4-1 vote last week. The council members did not discuss the specifics of the budget at this hearing. They did not have any presentation at the hearing on Tuesday or at the meeting during which the preliminary budget was discussed.
The budget had been posted under the finance department tab on the township website, according to Sparta CFO Grant Rome.
The lone no vote on the budget, Councilman Dan Chiariello said he did not agree with Open Space funds being earmarked for building synthetic turf fields, rather than purchasing land to preserve it from being developed. Chiariello said, "Most voters expect their Open Space funds to be used for preservation not artificial turf."
He also questioned the “increase of operating budget by $2 million, a 10% increase in spending,” compared to 2019.
Councilwoman Molly Whilesmith ask the Township Manager Bill Close or Township CFO Grant Rome to explain the different components that make up the total municipal budget.
Rome said the township budget was 0.18% of the levy, the county was 0.18% of the levy and the school was 0.64% of the levy.
Whilesmith also requested an explanation of the cap bank resolution for the community. Auditor Tom Ferry said, “It’s a safety net in case of extra-ordinary expenses or charges.”
Close said, “Anything the governor does during the emergency would be a cap exception, including if aid was pulled back.”
The meeting itself was largely hidden from the community until less than 18 hours before the meeting. Residents were required to get a password by emailing the day before the meeting. That information, however, was only announced in a legal notice posted on TAPinto Sparta on April 24.
TAPinto Sparta contacted the township manager, mayor and council members on Monday at 12:15 p.m. because the meeting information, ZOOM link, email address to request a password and the agenda were not on the township website.
The website at that time was still showing the meeting to be held on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the council chambers.
By 3:40 p.m. Manager Bill Close responded to the inquiry saying the township clerk was "working with the webmaster to get the information posted" to the township website.
At 9:18 p.m. Mayor Jerry Murphy responded, in part, “Receiving a password is done for additional security and efficiency and on the advice of professionals. This is not a hurdle to gaining access to the meeting, but rather a prudent move that an educated public understands.”
Murphy also addressed the change of the meeting time from the usual 7:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. “The Governor’s EO mandating citizens to stay home allows the meeting time to be flexible to accommodate the majority of people.”
Sixteen people were in the ZOOM meeting, 11 of whom were council members or township employees or contractors. The meeting video was not turned on for the public.
According to the township website, the next township council meeting is scheduled for May 12 at 7:30 p.m. in council chambers.