Council hopes for aid from the state

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    WEST MILFORD—Early last week, Acting Governor Richard Codey made his proposal to eliminate NJ SAVER rebate checks public. For the average homeowner in West Milford, this move represents about $722 in lost revenue. That, combined with a $1.6 million rise in the township budget, could spell quite a financial burden to local property owners. While it is traditional for municipalities facing higher tax rates to try to increase ratables by luring new businesses and development into the area, West Milford has its proverbial hands tied behind its back by the Highlands Act. Town council members are trying to address the problem, but unanswered questions are complicating things and have some council members at each other's throats. The state has a program called Extraordinary Aid which is designed to help taxpayers facing an increase by providing some relief. An application for $1.1 million in Extraordinary Aid is slated to be presented in Trenton today, along with the new budget. However, the implications of this are subject to debate among opponents on the council. Democrat Bob Nolan fears that by introducing a budget alongside the aid application, providing the aid is approved, commits the council to spending plans contained within that budget. The effect of this, Nolan argued, would be to set those plans in stone regardless of whether the town can afford them and resulting in an increase in taxes to residents. Nolan's view came from a municipal finance administration course he took prior to taking his seat on the council from an official of the Department of Community Affairs who reviews budgets. Nolan said, "He [the course instructor] said if you put in an application for Extraordinary Aid you are locked into that level of spending. If you get Extraordinary Aid then you come back and cut the budget, you can do it once, but you'll never get Extraordinary Aid again." Republican Joseph Elcavage however disagreed with Nolan and said later, "Mr. Nolan is wrong. The introduction of a budget does not lock in anything. He [Nolan] should do his homework before making such irresponsible comments at a public meeting." Township Administrator Richard Kunze said "With Extraordinary Aid they don't like to see a lot of changes in the budget, that's correct … however I have been involved in situations where there have been cuts and it did not affect Extraordinary Aid." The Watershed Moratorium Offset Aid, money for which West Milford qualifies, would also provide tax relief. Last year, the town received $757,000 of Watershed Aid. Although the governor included the fund in his budget, until and unless his budget is accepted on June 30, the money is not guaranteed. JoAnn Baker contributed to this article