Summit Council Budget Workshop Views $49.3 Million 2016 Spending Plan; Tax Rate for Municipal Purposes Would Increase by 0.75 Percent

Mister Rogers Neighborhood: Summit City Administrator Michael Rogers begins his 2016 municipal budget presentation. Credits: City of Summit Photo Services

SUMMIT, NJ - City Administrator Michael F. Rogers reviewed a proposal at the public Common Council budget workshop that would appropriate $49,320,492 in spending for municipal purposes for 2016.

Introduction of the budget is expected on Tuesday, April 5, with possible adoption after a public hearing on May 3, Rogers said.

He noted that the proposed spending plan would result in a tax increase for municipal purposes of 0.75 percent, while the budget presentation showed a property tax increase for schools amounting to 2.19 percent, 3.28 percent for Union County, and -- in support of the public library -- up 2.59 percent.

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These figures would result in a total property tax increase for the average Summit home -- assessed at $410,000 -- of $393.60 for the year, or 2.30 percent above that paid last year.

The administrator did point out, however, that his slides for the presentation were prepared before the city’s board of school estimate approved a final school budget showing an increase of only 1.95 percent in the school tax levy over the course of the 2016-17 school year.

Rogers also noted that, of every $100,000 of assessed valuation, municipal taxes under the proposed budget would take up $7, schools $47, the county $40 and the public library $2.

He added that, in terms of municipal employees covered by pension and health benefits, the city would bring its staff rolls down to 200 employees in 2016, with 175 full-timers and 25 part-timers. This includes 10 full-time and nine part-time employees of the sewer and parking services utilities.

This compares to 208 employees in 2015, and 212 in 2014.

The administrator attributed much of the savings in employee headcount to the institution of a joint emergency dispatch service with New Providence and Millburn.

The city has again been given a “AAA” rating by the credit rating agencies, which should help it to obtain more favorable results when it goes out for bond sales.

Prior to outlining the proposed budget figures, Rogers reviewed a number of strategic initiatives and goals for the year.

Among those aimed at promoting a better quality of life for citizens were:

  • Strengthening community partnerships to enhance the central retail business district and businesses in other commercial zones.
  • Encouraging development of affordable housing.
  • Improving recreational facilities citywide.
  • Initiating the Master Plan reexamination project.
  • Establishing an economic development team.
  • Completing the final phase of the downtown beautification project to include conduit for fiber network.
  • Completing the design and plans for the Community Center, Cornog Fieldhouse, Tatlock Park, Wilson Park and Investors Bank Park.

Promotion of high class city services would be accomplished by, among other goals:

  • Continuing to strengthen relations between the police and fire departments and the community.
  • Maintaining and enhancing shared services agreements by continuing to partner with area fire departments, hospitals and businesses.
  • Better managing citywide traffic related issues and enhancing pedestrian and bicycle safety.
  • As part of the master plan reexamination, continuing infrastructure and neighborhood improvements.
  • Integrating web-based citizen request management (CRM) technology - SCF.
  • Continuing technical and cross-discipline training for key point-of-contact employees.
  • Upgrading aging parking structures and technology such as pay-by-plate and on-street pay stations.

Promoting safe and healthy neighborhood through, among many methods:

  • Creating a specialized police traffic unit utiilizing engineering, education and enforcement strategies.
  • Establishing a police motorcycle unit for patrol and ceremony use. At the workshop session Police Captain Steven Zagorski said the current aim is to obtain one motorcycle for the unit by 2017.
  • Reviewing and updating first responder medical programs and the status of the fire department’s re-accreditation.
  • Installing pedestrian safety devices such as lighted crosswalks, flashing beacon systems and signage.
  • Implementing GIS mapping to store data, analyze infrastructure and track vehicles.
  • Replacing all street lighting within the central retail business district.

Among other methods, utilizing the following in promoting fiscal responsibility:

  • Ensuring stable city tax rates and fees for citizens.
  • Evaluating operational strategies to reduce city service delivery costs.
  • Engaging city bargaining units to negotiate a fair and reasonable multi-year contract by the end of 2016.
  • Securing long-term financing for outstanding short-term notes with the historic low interest market.
  • Adopting new non-tax revenue sources.
  • Expanding the use of Edmunds software to facilitate tracking of deposits and payments.
  • Implementing a new time and attendance system in Community Services, Community Programs and Parking Services departments.

Promoting economic opportunity through, among other methods:

  • Planning and encouraging smart growth and transit-oriented development.
  • Marketing the city of Summit as a destination for business.
  • Partnering with community organizations to promote local business development.
  • Utilizing the Master Plan reexamination to encourage new capital investment and repurposing of existing underutilized land uses.
  • Structuring an economic development strategy around the installation of gigabit internet.
  • Developing incentives to support small businesses.
  • Sourcing and procuring a professional consultant for grant writing.
  • Designing a strategic framework for innovation centers and identify key stakeholders.

Aim for increased environmental sustainability by using, among others, the following:

  • Encouraging the use of alternative methods of transportation.
  • Continuing to reduce energy and resources consumed by city government.
  • Engaging volunteers to promote green initiatives in Summit.
  • Establishing the Summit Free Market as a twice-monthly event to reduce tipping fees.
  • Developing a bicycle master plan.
  • Working with the Board of Education to promote safe walking routes to school.
  • Developing a ridesharing program to alleviate traffic congestion and reduce demand for parking.

Among other methods, promoting honest, transparent and inclusive government through:

  • Providing timely and accurate information about city actions, events and decisions.
  • Recruiting and retaining an inclusive municipal workforce that reflects community diversity.
  • Developing a strategic technology plan with with help of the city’s technology advisory committee.
  • Updating the city’s public communications plan.
  • Completing the redesign of the City of Summit website. (The redesigned website was rolled out on March 31 and Rogers thanked several city employees, facilitated by public information officer Amy Cairns for their work on the project.)
  • Installing a network server and circuit upgrades including new cloud-based Office software.
  • Establishing reliable WIFI service within city hall.
  • Streamlining the records management ordinance and the OPRA process electronically.
  • Creating a paperless environment and database for mayor and council appointments.
  • Enhancing presentation capabilities in the Common Council Chamber.

During a discussion on the capital budget, council members were split about the timing of a $100,000 expenditure for a feasibility study on a new fire headquarters.

While they all supported the study, some, including First Ward Councilman David Naidu and Second Ward Councilwoman Sandra Lizza, who chairs the finance committee, questioned whether it made sense to commission a study this year when it might be outdated by the projected 2019 completion date of the new headquarter.

Fire Chief Eric Evers said that, if the City were to apply for a grant for the headquarters, it would need the study to seek such a grant, and there was only about an 18-month window to apply for the grant and comply with its provisions.

Also on the capital budget list is $90,000 for police vehicles and $300,000 for enhancements to the joint dispatch center’s infrastructure.

On another public safety matter, Second Ward Councilwoman and public safety committee chairwoman Mary Ogden said, from her ride-alongs with police and fire personnel, it looked like the departments “were doing the best with what they had” in terms of personnel, but they could perhaps use more help, especially when they had people out or if they had a “major incident” say at Celgene.
Second Ward Councilman and former public safety chairman Patrick Hurley agreed with exploring manpower levels, but he said he wanted to take a closer look into greater leverage of mutual aid.

Hurley also said the city’s geography and the limited amount of land available in the city would play a great role in determining where a new fire headquarters would be constructed.

Other items on the capital budget list included $500,000 for the Upper Tatlock Artificial Turf Field, $50,000 for Family Aquatic Center improvements and $10,000 for park furnishings.

Department of Community Services requests include $3.22 million for infrastructure projects including Phase I of the Whittredge Road improvements, Lenox Road improvements and Edgemont Avenue improvements.

Also requested are $620,000 for building improvements, $250,000 for improvements to the spillway at the municipal golf course, $406,000 for building equipment upgrades and $205,000 for replacement of a street sweeper.

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