SUMMIT, NJ—A $50 million 2017 municipal operating budget that will bring a tax increase for municipal purposes of 0.84 percent was adopted unanimously by the Summit Common Council at its second meeting of April.
County taxes will increase an estimated 2.17 percent, school taxes 1.96 percent and the taxes in support of the public library 2.60 percent.
The combined tax picture will see the average residential tax, on a Summit home assessed at $410,000, rise by 1.81 percent.
While Council members were pleased to see the tax rate for municipal purposes increase by less than one percent, they cautioned that the City will continue to face tough fiscal choices in the years ahead.
Repeating his contention that the 2017 spending plan is a “sobering” budget, Ward 1 Councilman David Naidu said Summit has to balance the desire of its residents for certain services with the level of taxes needed to pay for those services.
One of the most challenging areas, Naidu said, is decreasing revenues, brought home particularly this year in the industrial sector, with the departure of the Merck & Co. Inc. campus from the Hilltop City, even though it has been replaced by a second campus for Celgene.
The Ward I representative added that, even though the City should continue to grow its revenue base along the Broad Street corridor, it needs to devote more attention to smaller neighborhood businesses in such areas as Morris and Park Avenues.
He also called for the allocation of more dollars to preventive maintenance of City facilities and a more specific delineation of the value of service the City provides to other public entities in Summit such as the public schools.
On the topic of parking, he said the City’s parking agency needs to take a hard look at the amount of personnel needed to maintain and run its facilities, and, he added, perhaps the Council should determine whether the $300,000 allocated for cobblestones on Beechwood Road can be withdrawn before it is spent and used for other projects.
Looking to the capital budget, Naidu said the governing body needs to examine how much more debt is sustainable for the city.
Council president Michael McTernan replied that “everyone wishes the revenue picture was better. For the last two years we have been losing revenue and, even with some upgrades in our capital base, it still is tough.”
Nevertheless, he congratulated City administrator Michael Rogers, City treasurer Marge Gerba and all City department heads for working particularly with lean operations to deliver a top-quality product for City taxpayers. He also complimented them for navigating through the “complicated, sometimes Byzantine” budget process.
The Council president also praised the evolution over the years.of the City budget snapshot made available to Hilltop City taxpayers.
Ward 2 Councilwoman Mary Ogden said City department heads not only should be proud of presenting fiscally responsible budgets and working with reductions they often had to make, but also for their personal accomplishments and that of their staffs. She also acknowledged the hard work of Rogers and Gerba, while agreeing that some tougher budget decisions lie ahead.
In another budgetary matter, the Council approved a $520,000 contract with Potter Architects of Union for the next three phases of the $6.5 million Summit Community Center renovation project. The contract will cover preparation of construction documents, bidding or negotiations and construction administration. The governing body also authorized a $296,000 contract with Spartan Construction of South Amboy for the rehabilitation of the Cornog Field House.
In addition to the base bid, the contract with Spartan Construction includes lightning protection systems, restoration of the existing chimney cap, a new case aluminum roof railing and a new front entry canopy. In making the motion for the contract award, council general services chairman Patrick Hurley said the field house had been re-purposed many times over the years and perhaps, when the renovations for completed, the facility would be a source of revenue for the City.
McTernan added the field house was an investment made now so that the City still would have the historic building in the future.
Hurley, referring back to Naidu’s remarks about the need for preventive maintenance, said the field house perhaps had suffered from neglect over the years and now was being brought up to the type of facility it should be.