Business & Finance

West Caldwell Council Views Municipal Budget with $64 Tax Increase on Average Home

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WEST CALDWELL, NJ—Owners of the average West Caldwell Township property, assessed at $437,900, would see a property-tax increase of $64 if the proposed 2017 municipal budget is adopted as written, according township administrator Adam Brewer.

At Tuesday’s West Caldwell Township Council meeting, Brewer also said that three areas of the budget—health insurance, debt service and pensions—alone would produce increased appropriations totaling $465,540, although, he added, savings in the spending plan would result in a total appropriations increase of only $346,040.

The budget is scheduled to be formally introduced at the governing body’s Tuesday, March 21, session.

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Also expected to be approved on that date is the adoption of an ordinance allowing the township to “establish and preserve a cap bank.”

When creating the cap on municipal spending, a community may establish a “cap bank” of up to 3.5 percent over the previous year’s final appropriations, according to state law. This is not an actual set aside of funds, according to the council, but rather spending authority that allows a municipality to exceed the cap on spending for either of the next two years after the “cap bank” is established.

This spending authority would not be used unless an unforeseen emergency arose in the municipality setting up the “cap bank,” according to the council.

In addition to the overall budgetary discussions at Tuesday’s meeting, the council heard outlines of departmental spending proposals by Police Chief Gerard Paris, West Caldwell Volunteer Fire Department Chief James Alvine III, Public Works Director Vincent Graziosa and Library Director Samantha McCoy.

The directors focused chiefly on past expenditures, departmental improvements and possible future expenditures rather than specific figures in the current year’s proposed budget.

Paris said his department would look for capital budgets in the next several years to provide video cameras for the department, to upgrade interior and exterior monitoring in police headquarters and to make traffic units more advanced.

He added that the department was working with vendors and the Caldwell Police Department to upgrade police-radio reception to eliminate “dead spots” in reception and transmission around West Caldwell. The chief said he would keep a careful eye on the capital budget and seek to upgrade items each year as they are needed.

Responding to a question from Mayor Joseph Tempesta, Jr., the police chief said license-plate-reading technology would make an excellent tool for his department. He said he was “still looking at the dollars” with prospective vendors to determine the most effective time to introduce the new technology.

The chief estimated current costs of each of license-plate-reading unit at about $20,000.

Alvine noted that his department responded to approximately 100 more calls this year than it did 10 years ago, with his roster now reaching 67 members. It is possible, the fire chief added, that by this time next year, there will be a waiting list to get onto the volunteer fire department.

He added that the next big equipment purchase—a replacement of a 20-year-old pumper truck—would likely not be necessary until 2019.

The public works director said would probably have to replace a Mason dump truck this year and is looking to replace the department’s Komodo tractor, which is used chiefly for small excavation projects around township fields, and a John Deere tractor in the near future.

Much of the public-works discussion centered on road improvements, with NJ Department of Transportation (NJDOT) approval of a grant for the improvement of Beverly Road expected soon. The council also discussed a potential application to NJDOT for funding of the improvement of Forest Avenue next year.

The mayor expressed concern that many roads in the township had “slant” curbing that was of the 1940s vintage and was beginning to wear down. Graziosa responded that buying cooperatives to which the township currently belongs are listing suppliers that offer good pricing on materials used for Belgian block curbing.

In addition to his current priority list for road projects, the public works director told the mayor he would begin developing lists grouping roads according to how long each was expected to last. He added that most current projects involve only milling and paving and that he is looking into a process used by Essex County that can be done more quickly because paving equipment immediately follows milling equipment during each project.

McCoy noted that approximately 131,000 people had come through the doors of the West Caldwell Public Library last year—a 20-percent increase from the previous year.

She added that there was a 30-percent increase in interest in sewing, knitting and Majong classes at the library. Although book circulation had been “flat” during the past year, the director said, there was a also 30-percent increase in circulation of electronic materials.

She added that 60 percent of the building’s patrons held library cards and that there was an 84-percent increase in the use of the library’s three small study rooms.

With last year’s upgrade in the library’s wireless routers, the director said, there was also an increase in use of the wireless system by 5000 or 6000 patrons.

Responding to McCoy’s citation of increased use of library study areas for tutoring, Tempesta was concerned with tutors possibly overusing library space as their private profit center. The mayor said he had no problem with parents reserving library space for helping their children get better tutoring time, but added that he had heard private tutors were abusing the privilege of library space use in other communities.

McCoy responded she did not believe the privilege was being abused in West Caldwell.

The library treasurer agreed with the mayor that, if library tutoring became widespread, it might be a source for township revenue in the future.

As for future capital needs, McCoy said she was looking to replace the color-lazer printer used in the circulation area in the near future and also said the projector currently used in the auditorium may soon have to be replaced as well.

She also said laptops were receiving wider usage by those attending library classes.

The director noted the library staff had been reduced from 10 members to nine in the past year when one staff member left, but agreed with the mayor that more reliance on part-time rather than fulltime staffers was a good cost-saving goal.

In other news, Tempesta said he would like to take a closer look at allowing businesses in the M-2 zones to increase ceiling heights to allow for modern warehouse-type businesses with greater ceiling heights.

The council on Tuesday also adopted a $522,000 bond ordinance for the township’s annual road milling-and-paving program and road reconstruction on streets including Marshall Street, Wilson Terrace, Harding Road and Ridge Terrace.

Also adopted was a resolution directing the planning board to prepare a rehabilitation plan for the area declared in need of rehabilitation that includes the Essex Mall at Bloomfield Avenue and Kirkpatrick Lane.

The next mayor and council meeting will be held on March 7. 

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