2019 municipal budget vote fails 2-3

| 11 Jul 2019 | 12:06

The Township Council could not muster enough votes Wednesday night to finally pass the proposed 2019 municipal budget.
Council members voted down the presented $35 million plan 2-3 with Councilwomen Ada Erik and Marilyn Lichtenberg supporting the spending plan and Council members Lou Signorino, Andie Pegel and Patricia Gerst voting against the resolution.
Councilman Peter McGuinness was absent from the meeting.
The current proposal would increase the tax rate by about 2.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
While that would normally mean an increase of about $60 for the owner of an average $242,000 township home, Interim Township Administrator and Budget Consultant Bob Casey said that a reduction in the Passaic County tax rate would be close to offsetting the municipal increase of around $700,000.
If passed as presented, the only increase local residents would see is the 3.7-cent per $100 of assessed valuation from the school district budget approved earlier this year.
That amounts to an increase of about $88 for the owner the average township home.
“I will not be supporting the budget as is,” Signorino said. “I’m not interested in a 3-percent increase in the budget.”
Signorino again, asked the council to use some or all of the town’s remaining surplus of about $1 million to offset the present $713,000 spending increase over last year.
He said that he was confident that the surplus, which amounted to around $4 million last year, would be replenished in time for next year’s budget, and would keep the municipal tax rate flat.
“It’s extra money,” he said.
Casey reminded Signorino that while last year was the highest for a collected surplus, the council has already used $3.8 million of that to keep this year’s budget increase down and that was the highest amount ever used for that purpose.
He also said that the council voted in March to keep $1 million in surplus for cash flow reasons and to keep the town’s AA+ bond rating for future borrowing.
Using the surplus to plug the current budget hole, Casey said, would likely cause that rating to drop and cost the municipality more to borrow money later on.
Pegel said she couldn’t support the proposed budget until she saw a copy of the itemized school budget so that she could understand why that increase was so high.
That budget, passed several months ago, is under the jurisdiction of the Board of Education and the council is not allowed, under state law, to make any changes to it.
Pegel also asked to go over the budget again with each of the departments to see if further cuts could be made.
Casey said that the council did just that through several prior meetings, even adding some $292,000 in spending back into the plan.
Wednesday night’s discussion was carried from June 24 when three council members were absent from a special budget meeting.
Both Signorino and Pegel notified the administration by email that they would not be attending.
Mayor Michele Dale said that McGuinness said that day that he would attend the meeting, but did not.
She said that if she knew that he would not make the meeting she would have cancelled it.
Instead, the brief meeting took place, and the budget hearing and adoption were carried until Wednesday.
Casey said the township is now about two months behind in striking its budget for the year and that the state may soon formally ask council members to get a plan passed.
Casey said the budget will again be carried to the next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 14, because the state requires four votes either way for a decision.