WEST MILFORD-As the annual the township budget talks started last week, one of the biggest concerns on council members' minds was the future of the planning department. Councilman Paul Bailey questioned a need for the planning department. With the full impact of the Highlands Act being felt, it may be that planning as it exists is no longer a necessity, he said. After the meeting he commented: "Now, with the Highlands legislation effectively reducing development in West Milford to a minimum, logic dictates that we change the infrastructure that was set up for another set of needs. In its present form [the planning department] may well find itself no longer serving the needs of the taxpayers." The township planning department is made up of a staff of seven and is headed by William Drew. The responsibilities of the department are split into three divisions n Comprehensive Planning, the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Not only does the planning department figure in the budget review, but all administrative areas must be looked at, according to Bailey. "I think the question needs to be asked of all departments, how does the Highlands legislation affect what you do every day. If we do not ask that question, we do not serve the taxpayers of West Milford." The Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act was introduced by former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey in August, 2004. The act was established to protect thedrinking water of some five-million people and preserve New Jersey's open spaces, particularly in the northern region. West Milford lies entirely within the preservation area and, as a result, development in the township is severely restricted. The act prevents all non-residential development, any residential development that requires environmental land use or a water permit, and any project which results in the ultimate disturbance of one-acre, or more, of land. This and other budget decision made by the council will depend greatly on the state budget announced by Acting Governor Richard Codey which includes aid given out to municipalities. Acute interest will be paid to the Watershed Moratorium Aid of which the township received $757,687 in 2004. Council members are desperately hoping this amount will at least be matched for 2005. It's believed Codey will announce his budget proposals by the end of February, however the budget itself has until July 1 to be passed. "The entire approach to municipal government must be questioned, and adapted for this new reality," says Bailey.