SUMMIT, NJ - A 2016 city budget, calling for an increase in the tax rate for municipal purposes of 0.75 percent, was unanimously introduced by the Summit Common Council at its first April session.

The spending plan, which would cause an increase in property taxes for the city’s expenses of about $28 for the year on the average Summit home assessed at $410,000, is scheduled for a public hearing and possible final adoption on May 3.

At the April meeting City Administrator Michael F. Rogers summarized the budget that he had previously presented at the public council finance committee workshop on March 31.

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Rogers noted that the principal city strategic initiatives and goals embodied by many of the budgetary initiatives were:

  • Promoting a better quality of life for Summit’s citizens.
  • Promoting high class city services.
  • Continuing to promote safe and healthy neighborhoods.
  • Promoting fiscal responsibility.
  • Boosting economic opportunity.
  • Aiming for increased environmental sustainability.
  • Promoting honest, transparent and inclusive government.

The administrator added that the spending plan also called for a $5,904,900 capital budget, and the biggest reduction in that item from last year was that the cost of renovating the community center, which had been included in 2015.

He also pointed out that the overall assessed valuation of property in Summit had been reduced by $42 million by the loss of the Merck property on the tax roles, although the East Campus of Celgene, which now owns the Merck site, added around $25 million in assessed valuation and residential properties added about $25 million.

Rogers also said that Summit’s equalization ratio, through which the city’s share of county taxes is calculated, stands at 43.24 percent, one of the better ratios in Union County.

Additionally, he noted, the proposed municipal budget would come in $680,377 under the state’s municipal tax levy “cap.”

At the budget introduction session, the governing body also introduced an ordinance allowing it to add to its “cap” bank. This allows the city to “bank” for three years emergency spending authority because its budget would come in under “cap.”

Councilman Patrick Hurley explained the cap “bank” does not set aside extra funds, but only provides, for three years, spending authority the council could use to increase its appropriations limit in the case of an emergency. He noted Summit never has used this authority in the past.

Rogers added that the city currently has more than $2 million in its cap bank.

He also presented a chart showing that, over the last 15 years, which city spending has remained substantially “flat,” Union County spending has increased at a far greater rate.

The administrator also noted that municipal operations, under the proposed municipal budget, would cost $31,506,779 and salaries and wages $17,320,000. 

Employee health insurance costs, he said, increased by about 5.8 percent, although that was partially offset by employee contributions.

Finance committee chairwoman Sandra Lizza praised Rogers and the city staff for their work in preparing a “very comprehensive” budget document and agreed with the three credit rating agencies, who, when reaffirming the city’s AAA rating, said the city had a “conservative budget and thoughtful, forward looking planning.”

At the same time, Lizza added, the budget contained many new initiatives and continued Summit’s tradition of “wonderful community service.”

Council president Michael McTernan noted Summit’s rating was better than that of both New Jersey and the federal government.

On another matter,  a proposed ordinance -- amending the city code dealing with restaurants and “public places where food and beverages are sold and consumed” -- was held up for clarification on some of its provisions.

Councilwoman Mary Ogden, who introduced the measure, said the ordinance was aimed at matching up classes in the restaurant-regulation code with those in the city’s Developmental Regulations Ordinance. 
 
Hurley said, however, that the proposed ordinance was too broad and did not adequately define “retail food establishments.”
 
He thought the ordinance, as proposed, might be “overreaching” and could possibly hinder fundraising by schools and charitable organizations wishing to sell food.
 
Hurley and other councilmen called for either a specific definition of retail food establishments in the proposed ordinance, or a specific reference in the proposed ordinance to the DRO section defining the establishments.
 
Council Members also voted to exclude, from a proposed ordinance on the clearing of snow from residences and other property in the city, references to penalizations of tenants not clearing snow near their apartments.
 
Additionally, they called for the ordinance to specifically spell out which department of community services personnel were authorized to issue summonses to those found in violation of the ordinance.

The proposed ordinance would double the fine, from $25 to $50, for not clearing snow from sidewalks or walkways near buildings in the city within 24 hours of the end of snowfall, with a warning to be given and summonses issued four hours after the warning is issued. 

Police chief Robert Weck explained his department had called for more “teeth” to be put into the ordinance after a large increase in violations last winter and concerns that school children were endangered by being forced to walk into streets on their way to school.

The Council also was given a review of the city’s new website, presented by public information officer Amy Cairns, Jin Blades of the department of community services and Megan Trindell, communications intern.

They noted entries on the site now could be shared through the social media, pages can be emailed, there is easier access to the most frequently used pages and minutes and agendas of meetings are accessible from events listed on the calendar.

The notifications area, they said, will now contain timely and updated information that residents can sign up to receive, and the “Report a Concern” functionality has been made more user friendly and accessible.

Additionally, Cairns noted, through the “See, Click, Fix” application, residents now can report, through their smartphones, the location of such items, like potholes, needing attention and the system will tell them when a report has been received, the status of the solution and when the problem is solved.

She also said the system will provide a list of previous calls made so residents will know whether incidents in their neighborhood have previously been reported.

In response to questions from council members, the website presenters noted that the website will enable tracking of the metrics of the efficiency of city departments in responding to concerns.

Blades noted that residents who do not have access to computers still may telephone city hall with their complaints or concerns.