Council, BOE working to keep tax increases down

| 28 Mar 2019 | 01:01

    WEST MILFORD – It’s not shaping up to be a good budgetary year for the township.
    Both the Board of Education and Township Council are dealing with significant increases in their respective preliminary budgets.
    While the school district preliminary plan contains a 6-cent per $100 of assessed valuation increase in the tax rate, the township is grappling with an 8.5-cents per $100 increase.
    If adopted as they are at the moment, the local tax rate would rise to about 14-cents per $100 of assessd valuation.
    That would mean a tax increase of about $345 for the owner of a township average home assessed at $246,000.
    During a special budget meeting of the council Wednesday night, department heads made their cases for the seven percent overall increase in the budget.
    Among the significant increases, new hires and equipment account for much of the $2.1 million increase.
    Those hires, many of which were encouraged by a $65,000 efficiency report the town contracted for last year, as well as attrition in some of the departments.
    Chief of Police Tim Storbeck told the council that as many as 5-12 police officers could be retiring in the next several years and need to start being replaced now.
    He said that hires for the department now work for about 30 years instead of retiring after 25 years following changes made to the public pension system under the Gov. Chris Christie administration.
    He also told the council that the department was desperately in need of changing out about half of its fleet of “front line” police vehicles because of the mileage and wear from patrolling the more than 80-square mile township.
    Council members now have to sharpen their pencils and try to whittle the increase down, despite acknowledging the need for many of the requests coming from the various departments.
    One of the increases includes a new salary for a full time administrator that will likely cost about $100,000 more than the town spent last year with Township Clerk Antoinette Battaglia doing the job on a part time basis for $38,000 annually.
    Council members removed Battaglia from the position in December and only last week adopted an ordinance increasing the range of pay for the position.
    Councilman Lou Signorino said in December that the move needed to be made in order to provide a full time clerk for the community.
    The council voted 5-1 at that time to terminate Battaglia from the extra position without cause.
    Mayor Michele Dale said that she has received eight applications to date for the new position.
    During one exchange Wednesday night, Signorino blamed Dale for the increase in budget spending, and for bringing it to the council.
    Dale responded that the budget came from Consultant Bob Casey, and that the budget falls under the council’s control as opposed to the mayor.
    As the township grapples with its spending plan, the Board of Education is trying to lower its expected 6-cent increase for the year.
    That panel has had to deal with a loss in state aid of almost $1 million this year, some $950,000.
    Both bodies will continue working on the plans through the spring until they adopt a final budget for the year.