Business & Finance

Westfield Town Council Discusses Using Surplus to Increase Municipal Budget

Councilwoman Habgood and Councilman Contract made their case for using money from the town's surplus in this year's budget. Credits: Jackie Lieberman

WESTFIELD, NJ — The town council discussed a preliminary budget that would raise municipal property taxes by about one half of a percent during its conference meeting Tuesday. A budget presentation to the public is planned for the next council meeting on March 27.

Councilwoman Linda Habgood, chair of the finance commitee, and Town Administrator Jim Gildea gave the budget presentation to the full town council.

The proposed budget includes plans to allocate about $4.2 million of the town’s $14.2 million surplus toward investments in the town, such as new equipment for the department of public works and equipment for the conservation center.

Sign Up for E-News

Finance committee vice chair Jo Ann Neylan and finance committee member Doug Stokes, both Republicans, expressed displeasure that half of the committee — Democrats David Contract and Habgood —  inserted $1 million of that surplus money into the proposed budget during last-minute unofficial meeting that Neylan and Stokes were not at.

Stokes said he was at all eight of the scheduled budget meetings.

“Then, over the weekend, if I can quote your email, it says, ‘I plan to be in the conference room at town hall Monday to go over the presentation with Jim [Gildea]. Feel free to join,’” Stokes said to Habgood. “It was never an official meeting. When you work on a presentation, in my experience on town council, that’s just going over the presentation that you presented tonight with Jim.”

When he found out about the change, he said,  “I must admit that was a little bit of a shocker for me.”

“We never had a one final meeting where we sat down and were able, as a committee, to go over these numbers,” Neylan said. “When I got the numbers they were different by a million dollars from the numbers that are presented this evening.”

Habgood apologized.

“I didn’t anticipate last night ending up in a discussion about changing the numbers,” Habgood said. Seeing the numbers in the spreadsheets for the first time, she said, they realized that the town had generated more than $4.2 million of additional surplus during the course of 2017.

“The money sitting in surplus, the cash that the town has, earns .75 percent,” Habgood said.

Councilman Frank Arena urged caution.

“Let’s be careful with that surplus, because we built that over the years,” he told the council.

“I think the major story here tonight is that we’re using all of the surplus that we generated last year,” Neylan agreed. That’s about 30 percent of the total surplus, she pointed out: “Surplus that I’ve been around long enough to know it took about 10 years to build up.”

According the town’s 2018 municipal budget summary, in addition to the town’s statutory functions, the 2018 budget includes funding for the following items in each category:

Enhancing communication and transparency: Hiring of a new public information officer; funds for a new town website; and funds for live streaming meetings and technology upgrades.

Improving services and operating efficiencies: Continue replacing aging public works equipment; replacing and adding public works employees to bolster services; hiring an engineering inspector for proactive inspections of various projects and roads; and funds for a new residential app for reporting issues and management tracking.

Improving downtown business climate and growing non-property tax revenue: New events, including a new town-wide signature event for the fall and other new events working with the Downtown Westfield Corporation; a new shared service to perform proactive sewer cleaning in the downtown; and using older police vehicles to serve on utility projects to create a source of revenue to offset police department expenses.

Engaging the community: Funds for school safety (Due to recent events and in collaboration with the board of education, the town has assigned additional officers to Westfield schools); funds for the master plan process, including hiring experts to focus on parks and fields, parking, firehouse feasibility study and the master plan process; and  increasing awareness of historic preservation with events such as new speaker series and expansion of Green Team events.

In addition to these items, the town council continues working on the annual capital budget, which includes pay-as-you-go funding for road projects, according to the summary, and downtown improvements in conjunction with the Downtown Westfield Corporation are also being considered as part of the capital budget along with pedestrian safety enhancements at various locations around town.

During the meeting, Neylan said that she had issue with increasing the size of the budget.

“My fear — or my concern — is that we are growing the government, and that’s fine if that’s the objective,” Neylan said. “This is not something that I believe in.”

One example Neylan noted was  the allocation of  $35,000 for public events.

“This is something that is expected to be kind of an iconic, unique event to Westfield that will actually be self-sustaining in terms of revenue producing going forward,” Mayor Shelley Brindle replied. “For me, this is about an investment in our downtown that will pay for itself over time relative to the $30,000 marketing expense.”

“But we have $40,000 [allocated] for a public information officer, and also ... additional money for the website,” Neylan said.

“Jim [Gildea] and I had lunch with the Summit mayor and the Summit business administrator on Monday, who have a chief communications officer, they have a public information officer,” Brindle said.

“When they heard what we went through last week without a communications professional, they were floored,” she said, referring to the two nor’easters that caused road closures, power outages and damage throughout town.  “And the PIO — just hear me out —  is considered an emergency staff, executive staff member in most municipalities in this day and age. And in today’s world, people and residents expect to get information in real time, and in absence of that they assume the worst. It is not a luxury. It’s necessary to conduct business with the town. And you can dispute that, but I tell you what — I fall on my sword for that. Because it is absolutely essential.”

Neylan said that she remembered Superstorm Sandy when the town, under Mayor Andy Skibitsky’s leadership, was held up as an example of having the most efficient communication.

“Sandy was five years ago — a lot happened in communications. The expectations are completely different today,” Brindle responded.

The budget will not be up for approval until two weeks from now, Habgood told the council.

“If there are lingering concerns about what’s in this presentation, that’s what this process is about and we’re more than open to having discussions about that,” she said.

Residents can send questions about the budget to the council at

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


NJ Flags to Fly at Half-Staff for Jerry Green May 7

April 24, 2018

TRENTON, NJ — Governor Phil Murphy issued an executive order on Monday for New Jersey flags to be flown at half-staff at all state buildings and facilities on the day of the upcoming General Assembly session, scheduled for May 7, in memory of Assemblyman Jerry Green, former chair of the Union County Democratic Committee, who died last week.

On Thursday, Governor Murphy had said, ...

2018 Municipal Budget is on Collision Course with Principles of Financial Soundness & Stability

April 18, 2018

Having chaired the town council’s finance committee in the recent past, I appreciate the hard work that goes into developing a municipal budget for a town as large and dynamic as Westfield. But as I have expressed publicly and also to the mayor and my council colleagues, I do not support the adoption of Westfield’s 2018 municipal budget. Although the budget contains much that I ...

Upcoming Events

Tue, April 24, 4:00 PM

Westfield Memorial Library, Westfield

Westfield Memorial Library Spring Book Sale

Arts & Entertainment


Tue, April 24, 7:00 PM

Westfield Municipal Building, Westfield

Westfield Town Council Meeting


Tue, April 24, 7:30 PM


Westfield Board of Education Meeting


Westfield Police Blotter: Residence Burglarized & More

April 18, 2018

April 11, 2018 10:23 a.m.

Raymond Rodgers, 56, of Westfield, NJ was arrested in the area of E. Broad Street. Rodgers was arrested pursuant to an unrelated traffic investigation. Rogers was transported to Westfield Police HQ without incident. At WPD HQ, Rodgers was processed and released after posting the full bail amount ($250). Rodgers was arrested on the strength of an outstanding Westfield ...

NJ07 Student Activists to Hold Town Hall on Gun Control

April 24, 2018

In less than a week, student activists from New Jersey’s Seventh Congressional District will be holding their Town Hall for Our Lives.

The town hall will take place in the meeting room of the Union Municipal Building from 7 to 9 p.m. Both Democratic and Republican candidates running for NJ07’s seat in the House of Representatives will be in attendance. At the event, they will ...

Ways to Increase Your Home's Equity

Sometimes you forget and don’t realize your home provides so much to your life. It brings along with it your dreams of the future, shelter to you and your family, a way to provide a better lifestyle, a better commute, a neighborhood, schools, community involvement and recreational facilities. But it also provides a way to save for the future. It does this by allowing you to build your ...

Westfield Community Thanks Crossing Guards for Valuable Service

Bob Lewis has been helping students safely cross the street at the corner of St. Mark’s Avenue and Sherman Street in Westfield for the past 22 years.

“I’m a fixture,” said Lewis, a crossing guard at Washington School who turns 90 years old in August.

“Whenever he is absent, students, parents and staff want to know ‘Where is Bob?’” ...

'The Sting' shimmers and shakes at Paper Mill

‘The Sting ‘slithers and shakes at Paper Mill Playhouse


MILLBURN, NJ – In a premiere production of “The Sting,” Harry Connick Jr. commands the Paper Mill Playhouse stage in Millburn.

Based on the sensational Paul Newman/Robert Redford film in 1973, the 1930s plot centers on a con game and gambling, sometimes on a train between New York and ...

Why We Keep Kosher

Why We Keep Kosher

This week's parshah, Shemini, introduces the Torah's dietary laws. Animals must chew their cud and have split hooves to be kosher, fish need fins and scales, and a list of forbidden fowl is enumerated.

To those of us in Jewish education, it is a continuing source of disappointment that so many Jews still believe the kosher laws to be outdated.

Hellenic Therapy Center

April 13, 2018

Dropping Off Our Kids At College – Learning How To Adjust

Hellenic Therapy Center


Whether your kid is a freshman entering college for the first time or returning back to college, there are so many emotions we experience as parents.  There are differences in a parent’s reaction to the departure of a first child, an only child or even the last child.  Feelings ...


Oct 21, 1944 - Apr 14, 2018
Kathleen A. Hertell passed away peacefully with family at her bedside on April 14, 2018. Loving ...
Read more

‘A Sad Day for Paterson’ as Police Officer Loses Life in Car Crash

April 23, 2018

PATERSON, NJ — On what Paterson Superior Officers Association President Mason Maher called “a sad day for Paterson,” a city police officer lost his life on Sunday after he was involved in a motor vehicle collision while on duty.

Several sources familiar with Sunday’s tragic accident have identified the fallen officer as Tamby Yagan, a 13-year veteran of the ...