Council adopts 2012 municipal budget

| 29 Jun 2012 | 09:35

WEST MILFORD — The township council passed its 2012 municipal budget Wednesday night, a $30,696,357 spending plan that's increasing $252,000 from the 2011 budget. That's up less than one percent - .83 percent to be exact - according to the township's auditor, Chuck Ferraioli.

The average house assessed at $247,000, after the revaluation, will pay an increase of $63.24 over the course of the year.

The council's initial budget for this year was up to $30.8 million. Since it was introduced, it was cut to just under $30.7 million.

This budget uses FEMA disaster money received by the township from the storms last fall. It also provides for no new hires.

The police department is losing two top-ranking officers, include Chief Gene Chiosie, who is retiring July 1. The council decided not to replace the two, which sparked a debate on the dais between some councilmembers.

Councilman Ed Rosone, a former police officer, said the cost of keeping the police force at its current number of 44 sworn officers is worth the additional $112,000 in the budget, adding about $12 to that average homeowner.

"It comes to 25 cents a week," said Rosone, noting the increase for each homeowner. "In my opinion, and I know we want to keep the budget down, but I don't think we should sacrifice the vacant positions. Keep the force as it is now."

He voted no on the budget. Councilwoman CarlLa Horton disagreed. She said she was against the hiring of two officers to take the place of the two retirees.

"We have to cut somewhere," said Horton.

Rosone doesn't think the police department is the place to do it.

"You can't sacrifice the police department," said Rosone. "We agreed not to hire additional officers. Those posts were here, in a lieutenant and chief."

He suggested road paving be put off another year instead of paring back on the officers.

"I respectfully disagree," said Horton.

Councilman Lou Signorino sided with Horton to leave the two positions empty, saying attrition is the best way to cut.

"I'm comfortable with this," said Signorino.

Chiosie has wanted to add two officers to the current 44, bring the department up to 46, still under the number recommended by the FBI-LEEDA report from a year ago.

Slash, don't cut Resident Maria Elena Grant told the council earlier in the evening they should slash the budget, not cut. She said since the assessments can't be changed, the budget should be.

"We all made hard decisions, changes in our own budgets. We're doing it," she said.

She also called on the council to stop blaming Newark, which many say pays less than its fair share in taxes for its watershed property, the county and others.

"This fiscal catastrophe happened on your watch," she told the mayor and council.

Councilman Joe Smolinski later noted that the municipal portion of residents' tax bills is a small part of it.

"We are only responsible for 20 percent of the budget and get 100 percent of the blame," said Smolinski. "I think everyone did a great job (on the budget)."

Mayor Bettina Bieri agreed. She said the school district portion of the tax bill is about 60 percent of the total taxes and the county the other 20 percent.