This Tuesday (March 27) during our next council meeting, I, as chair of the Finance Committee, which includes Councilpersons David Contract, JoAnn Neylan and Doug Stokes, look forward to presenting the 2018 budget to the public. The primary budget objective this year was to control the tax liability of our residents while investing in line with Mayor Brindle’s strategic goals of (1) enhancing communication and transparency; (2) improving services and operating efficiencies; (3) improving the general business climate and growing non-property tax revenues; and (4) engaging the community.
At the start of the process, the Finance Committee was presented with large increases in non-discretionary costs for 2018. Amounts owed in debt service, pension contributions and in assessments to the Raritan Valley Sewer Authority, among other things, increased by $1.15 million. Fortunately, after extensive meetings with the heads of 17 different departments, we achieved reductions in almost every operating budget. In addition, we have identified funding sources that can offset costs, discussed strategies for saving money over the long-term and aligned thinking around achieving highly efficient town operations across the board.
In fact, we are already saving money and offsetting costs in many ways. Here are a few prime examples:
- the new open RFQ process will net $25K in savings per annum for legal counsel, $40K in savings per annum for risk management and $9K in savings for court staff.
- Continuing the practice of renting out retired police vehicles to monitor construction sites is expected to generate more than $200k in profits per year.
- Investments in our DPW operations resulted in a $80K reduction in vehicle maintenance costs in 2017 (16 percent decrease) and will continue as we are increasingly able to service our own police and public works’ vehicles.
- Hiring an engineering inspector will allow us to more fully enforce the fees and fines in our building ordinance, which is expected to more than cover his/her salary and benefits costs.
These savings are being reinvested in Westfield’s future so that you, the taxpayer, will benefit. New investments in 21st Century equipment and technology are being made, but always with the objective of delivering better results while keeping tax rates as flat as possible. By taking this strategic approach, the Finance Committee will be presenting a budget with a levy increase of only .52 percent, far less than the rate of inflation and only $1.50/month per household on average.
I’m sure you are curious what made our list of strategic investments this year. Here are some highlights:
- Two new street sweepers, a plow truck and a bucket truck to improve DPW street cleaning, plowing, and tree maintenance.
- New street paving/patching equipment to reduce reliance on paving subcontractors.
- Technology upgrades that will enable live streaming of public meetings.
- New app to drive service efficiencies by enabling online reporting for things like potholes, outages and plowing needs.
- Proactive sewer cleaning downtown to minimize pipe clogging and basement flooding for businesses.
- A part-time public information officer to oversee the website and all town communication functions, thereby eliminating need for outside consultants.
- New, refreshed website that will allow for greater interaction with residents including additional online payment options for most town services.
- A signature autumn town event that will showcase Westfield, our businesses and generate revenue.
Additionally, with funds built up in the capital fund, we aim to increase the miles of roads to be paved in 2018 from approximately 4.4 to ~6.7.
We will do all this while paying down our debts, maintaining a very healthy balance sheet and continuing to hold a surplus of $10 million, all criteria that the rating agencies consider key in affirming a AAA bond rating.
It’s an exciting time to live in and work in Westfield! I am very proud of the diligence that the Finance Committee brought to the budget process this year, and the resulting benefits for our entire community. We also all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jim Gildea, our town administrator, and Scott Olson, our CFO, for their long hours expertly guiding us through the process.
All the members of the council hope to see you at the town council meeting on Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the council chambers. There will be a formal presentation of the budget with time for questions from residents. The budget is slated for adoption on April 24, so even if you can’t make Tuesday, there is plenty of time to review the budget on the town website (www.westfieldnj.gov) and send questions our way via firstname.lastname@example.org.