Council approves 2019 $35M budget

West Milford. It took a while, but the Township Council finally adopted its 2019 $35 million spending plan Wednesday night.

Sep 12 2019 | 12:49 PM

Township Council members finally mustered the votes to approve its $35 million budget for 2019 Wednesday night.

Casting a unanimous vote, the council approved an amended plan that uses around $300,000 of surplus money and $700,000 in cuts, reducing the tax rate by eight-tenths of a cent per $100 of assessed valuation.

That amounts to a tax cut of about $20 for the owner of a township average home assessed at $246,000.

Council members Lou Signorino, Peter McGuinness, Andie Pegel and Patricia Gerst, voted for the amendment during last week’s meeting, and the entire council voted to approve it at a special meeting Wednesday night just before the annual 9/11 Memorial Ceremony in front of town hall on Union Valley Road.

The council tried several times to come to an agreement on a budget during the summer, but lacked the required four votes to move the process forward with some of the members absent during those meetings.

The main bone of contention in the process was using the surplus funds to fill a budget hole of around $600,000.

Councilwomen Ada Erik and Marylin Lichtenberg opposed using the money in the surplus to fill the hole, warning the others that it could lead to a drop in the town’s bond rating, possibly leading to higher interest rates on future borrowing.

Signorino, in making the primary case for using the money, said that last year was the largest surplus in the town’s history and that the council has worked for years to become more efficient and that the trend for larger surpluses should continue.

Mayor Michele Dale and Acting Township Administrator, and Budget Consultant, Bob Casey expressed worry that using the money to fill the hole now could endanger the bond rating and place next year’s budget in a $400,000-$500,000 hole from the outset.

Dale said Wednesday night that she will make a presentation soon regarding this so that the residents know that using the money this year will impact next year’s budget before the two new GOP councilmen, Kevin Goodsir and Warren Gross take their seats in January.

Both McGuinness and Signorino will not return to the governing body after being defeated in the June Republican primaries for mayor and council.

Signorino lost his bid to Dale in the mayoral primary, and McGuinness and running mate Steven Castronova lost to Goodsir and Gross in that polling.

The Democrats did not put up any candidates in the council race, making Goodsir and Gross unopposed in November’s general election.