WESTFIELD, NJ — With revenue sources anticipated to decline as a result of coronavirus, the town has had to reduce spending on capital projects and dip into a portion of its surplus this year, officials said.
The town council on Tuesday introduced a $46.085 million municipal budget that increases annual property taxes paid to the local government by $55 on the home assessed at the town’s average value, according to Town Administrator Jim Gildea.
The owner of a home assessed at the town’s average value of $795,159 is anticipated to pay $2,751.25 in municipal taxes based on a municipal tax rate of $0.346 per $100 of assessed valuation, according to Gildea. Council members approved the spending plan 8-1.
“It reflects a lot of revenue uncertainty stemming from unknown tax collection rates and lost revenue from sources like parking, courts, construction, investments and the pool,” said Mayor Shelley Brindle. “We have cut our expenses significantly and have a list of additional expenses that we are prepared to cut if receipts come in lower than anticipated.”
The spending plan shows money from municipal court fines and fees reduced by $227,000, building department fees going down by $430,000 and parking fees from meters and pay stations anticipated to be reduced by $425,000, according to a budget presentation. The 2020 budget uses $4.5 million of the town’s surplus and leaves a surplus of balance remaining of about $7 million.
MORE: Westfield Taxpayers get More Time to Pay. But Town Still Has Bills.
“We have a very strong surplus and that will definitely provide us with some insurance and the ability to deal with problems that continue to get thrown at us,” said Councilwoman Linda Habgood, who chairs the finance policy committee.
The town, she said, does not know what federal aid it will receive as a result of the pandemic.
Gildea said the Westfield is looking at a tax levy increase of 1.95% and that it has reduced projected spending on overtime in all the departments. There will be no service cuts, layoff or furloughs as a result of the budget, he said.
“Compared to a lot of other communities, we’re in very good shape getting through this pandemic and reserving $7.1 million going into 2021,” Gildea said.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for May 26.
Officials said the town reduced spending on capital improvements by 93% or $1.2 million by eliminating or deferring equipment purchases.
Councilman Mark LoGrippo cast the lone dissenting vote, sparking objections from other council members.
“I would feel more comfortable with more of a surplus and doing more of the capital improvements that we’ve talked about,” said LoGrippo, the only Republican on the council.
He said the town has been “living beyond its means” while spending more and taking in less in the past few years.
Brindle said the surplus is one that surpasses that of other towns.
“We are a vibrant and growing town that needs invest in bold strategies for the future,” Brindle said
The partisan vote on the budget marked a similarity to last year's in which then Republican Councilwoman JoAnn Neylan cast the lone dissenting vote against the budget.
“I guess somebody has to pick up that mantle on your side,” Brindle told LoGrippo.
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