WEST CALDWELL, NJ — Members of the West Caldwell Township Council unanimously approved the introduction of the 2020-2021 budget with a 2.19 percent tax increase to the average home assessed at $450,000.

As presented last week, the municipal budget remains under the allowable 2-percent levy cap by $212,466. General appropriations for municipal purposes for the year total $21,094,291 with anticipated revenues equaling $6,645,611.22. A total of $14,448,680 will be subject to local tax, which includes $832,507.55 for library purposes.

Chief Financial Officer Nikole Baltycki reported the following figures as examples of the impact upon homeowners:

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  • The average home assessed at $450,000 with a market value of $497,000 the annual increase would be $83.94;
  • A home assessed at $550,000 with a market value of $607,000 the annual increase would be $99; and
  • A home assessed at $650,000 with a market value of $717,000 the annual increase would be $117.

A total of approximately $3,240,300 has been earmarked for a number of items in the capital budget, including the replacement of a fire truck, security cameras for the fire department, police base radio equipment, road improvements, computer hard and software, a 911 PSAP system upgrade, fire department equipment and indoor air sampling.

Also included at the recommendation of Mayor Joseph Tempesta was an increase in the line item for the West Essex First Aid Squad from $15,000 to $25,000. The increase was suggested as a result of the pandemic and the financial impact it has had on the first aid squad. The council expects to reduce the line item back to $20,000.

Following the previous meeting, where the council voted in favor of the increase, a local business owner anonymously donated the additional $10,000 out of gratitude toward the volunteer department. CLICK HERE for the full story.

As a result of financial implications of the pandemic on West Caldwell taxpayers, Tempesta also explained that the township’s ability to collect municipal property taxes could also impact the budget. Noting that second-quarter taxes are due on May 11 and third-quarter taxes are due on Aug. 10, Tempesta remarked that it “will be a game changer” if taxes are not collected.

Similar to previous budgets, there is currently a reserve of $850,000 for uncollected taxes based upon 98.58 percent of taxes being collected.

Tempesta and council member thanked Baltycki for her work on preparing the introductory budget and Township Clerk Mary Donovan for her efforts to ensure the continued day-to-day functions of the township.

In other news, the mayor announced that the community pools will not be open in time for Memorial Day Weekend, but said that it is still “premature to determine when one or both of the pools will be open.”

Decisions will be made based upon future guidance from the health department as it relates to social-distancing protocols that would need to be established compounded with potential difficulties with staffing the pools.

Tempesta also noted that permits for backyard above-and in-ground pools are “way up” in the Township of West Council, according to construction code official Robert McLoughlin.

Although construction for these pools is still deemed “non-essential,” Councilman Stanley Hladik stated that this determination could change in the near future. He cautioned that there will be a “need to focus on mental welfare of residents” and that he would support consideration of new programs for community interaction.

A brief discussion ensued regarding a possibility of hosting a Friday Family Night in the form of a “drive-in movie theater” somewhere in town.

Councilman Stephen Wolsky reported that the tennis courts are now open for Caldwell and West Caldwell residents only for singles play. He commented that opening the courts was “the right thing to do and was a smart step,” adding that players should each have two cans of new balls with them and should be careful not to touch each other’s balls or equipment. It was also recommended that all players wear a mask and gloves.

Councilman Michael Crudele announced that Camp Wyanokie has reopened for hiking, and Councilman Joseph Cecere noted that both town parks are open for passive recreation as well.

Although the West Essex Memorial Day parade has been canceled, Tempesta encouraged residents to honor the veterans in “a private way” and expressed hope that the township will be able to recognize them on a grander scale in the coming months.

Cecere said plans are still “up in the air” for 4th of July celebrations, stating that it is premature to make any concrete decisions and that there are a “number of options to discuss.” He also noted that gazebo concerts will most likely will be postponed until later in the summer.

In his police report for the night, Officer-in-Charge Dennis Capriglione thanked all community members for adhering to recommended safety guidelines, noting that the West Caldwell Police Department has not had any recent issues with non-compliance.

He also stated that the department has a steady supply of personal protection equipment (PPE) and that no officers have tested positive for COVID-19, although one officer did test positive for antibodies.

Fire Chief Michael Luker reported a decrease in call volume and that the fire department is adequately supplied with PPE. 

He also announced that a drive-through testing site managed by the Doctor’s Office Urgent Care Center near CVS will be set up by the vacant bank within the shopping plaza. 

Additionally, Tempesta officially declared a local state of emergency, allowing the process to bypass approval by the planning board in order to expedite the testing for first responders, municipal employees, board members and elected officials as a first priority.

The next council meeting will be held on May 19, and the final budget will be voted on during the June 16 meeting.