CALDWELL, NJ — The 2019-2020 Caldwell municipal budget was introduced on June 25 with an increase of approximately $13.10 per month, or a total of $157 annually, to the average home assessed at $419,539.

According to Business Administrator Thomas Banker’s presentation, the total municipal tax proposed to be collected will be $7,830,459.77, which represents an increase from 2018-2019 of $397,621.10. The tax rate for 2018 was .7687 percent while the new tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year would be .8050 percent.

Banker addressed some of the challenges that the borough currently facing, including structural problems at the community center’s parking deck, borough hall, the community center, the firehouse and the sewer plant buildings. Infrastructure needs included obsolete water and sewer mains as well in addition to the sewer plant capacity, Banker said.

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According to Banker, the state Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that the plant is currently at 95 percent capacity; and with the mandated fair-share housing obligations for the communities that utilize the plant, the capacity issue must be addressed. Banker also reflected upon limited municipal personnel and the lack of a vibrant downtown.

Long-and mid-term goals for the borough were also discussed as part of Banker’s budget presentation.

In order to eventually minimize the reliance on property taxes, the borough’s goal is to establish four self-sustaining utilities that include water, sewer, parking and usage of the community center. The need to continue to explore shared services for both the police departments and the courts are other opportunities to reduce the tax burden and make government more efficient, according to Banker.

Banker proposed that the parking deck be completely torn down in order to create surface parking and erect a new structure on the Smull Avenue lot that can hold 125 spaces per level for a potential of between 375 and 500 parking spots, which would service downtown Caldwell. 

Other recommendations from Banker included a proposal to relocate the municipal operations to 14 Park Avenue. Discussions will continue with the United States Postal Service to determine if this is viable.

The council is also considering requiring tax-exempt property owners to pay for sewer usage. Although those tax-exempt properties do pay for water usage, Banker explained that the sewer usage costs are currently not required.

According to Banker, the total appropriations for sewer utility appropriations have increased by $200,881.74 from the current budget. Banker recommended that to the borough move from inclusion of fees from the property tax bill to user fees for sewer usage by Jan. 1, 2020

The budget discussion also addressed the current contract with Essex Fells to purchase water that expires at the end of the year and will then be renegotiated. According to Banker, there has been an annual increase of 4 percent, which he said is higher than typical rates and is not supported by cost studies. The 4-percent increase represents $83,051.86 added to the budget.

Banker noted that although there will be an increase this year in the municipal tax he “expects taxes to go down in 2020 as we transfer from taxes to user fees and incorporate shared services for our police department and court system.”

In voting on the budget introduction, Councilman Thomas O’Donnell expressed concern that a previous budget draft indicated an increase of only $80 to the average homeowner.

“I need to crunch the numbers a bit and I feel terrible for people whose lifestyles will be affected,” he said.

Councilman Henderson Cole commented on issues with the parking garage, stating that it “should have lasted much longer than it did—not 20 years.”

“Annual repairs and maintenance should have upheld the structure,” said Cole. “Let’s not make that same mistake again so 30 years from now we do not have the same problem. It makes sense to spend money prudently.” 

Mayor John Kelley state that the Borough of Caldwell “has the good fortune to have someone like Tom Banker who can draw from his 40-plus years of municipal government experience to strategically craft a vision for developing a vibrant growing community.”

“He ran the city of Newark in the '70s and has consulted throughout the state most recently in Harrison and Patterson,” said Kelley.

The mayor also expressed confidence that the borough “can achieve significant change in our downtown over the next two years, which will bring new businesses and visitors to our wonderful downtown.”

With the timeline that the borough has put together, Kelley stated that the community center parking deck will be torn down and a new aesthetically pleasing parking area with improved lighting will be “completed no later than June 1, 2020 and possibly by Dec. 31, 2019.” In addition, the plans to construct a 500-car parking garage on the Smull lot will “change the game” in Caldwell’s downtown, according to Kelley.

“Our budget this year is defined by decisions made in prior years, and the goal this year is to make new decisions that will benefit the taxpayers in future budgets starting with the 2020 budget next year,” said Kelley. “All I ask is that the residents allow us the opportunity to invest in their assets and to give us the chance to make Caldwell a very special place to live and visit.”

The expectations moving forward for 2020, as Banker stated, are “ambitious but achievable.”  These include:

• Complete Establishment of 4 Utilities by January 1

• Implement All Agreed-to Shared Services by January 1

• Implement Comprehensive Parking Plan

• Technology, Private Coordination and Revised Fee Structure by January 1

• New Parking Deck by December 31st

• Begin Implementation of Sewer Plant Upgrades by January 1

• Complete Demolition of Deck and Construction of CC Surface Lot by June 1

 • Adopt Downtown Redevelopment Plan for Implementation on January 1

• Start 5 Year Tax Abatement Program on January 1

• Commence Collection of Sewer Fee in-lieu of Taxes on January 1

• Repair All Roofs by January 1

• Acquire Site Control of New Borough Hall Site by April 1

• Commence Construction of New Borough Hall by July 1

• Continue Water, Sewer and Road Reconstruction Programs

The preliminary budget was voted upon unanimously, although Councilman Pasquale Capozzoli was not in attendance.

The next council meeting will be held on July 16.