Council getting ready for budget discussion

| 08 Feb 2012 | 11:58

    WEST MILFORD - The West Milford Township Council will soon be starting its budget process. Last year, while bringing in a flat budget, the council met with much disapproval from the public when they decided to hold the budget meetings in committee format that were not open to the public and did not include the mayor.

    Councilman Lou Signorino recommended that they hold the budget sessions prior to the council meetings and, since the outcome was successful last year, he would recommend doing the budget in sub-committees.

    When the council members meet without a quorum, the meetings do not have to be open to the public, but they can be. That's what happened last year; the council decided to divide into two three-member committees. Each committee met with particular department heads and the administrator without the public or the mayor present. At the end of that process, the public did have its say at a public budget hearing. Up until that point, though, they let their displeasure be known at the council meetings.

    "Last year people were very unhappy," said Councilwoman CarlLa Horton who was elected in November and wasn't a part of the process last year. "The mayor needs to have a stronger presence in this process. She knows the budget inside and out."

    Resident Gary Steele was vocal throughout the budget process last year, wanting the public to know what was going on while it was happening, not at the end. He also suggested the council include Mayor Bettina Bieri this year since she is an accountant.

    "Committee meetings can still be advertised and open to the public," said Steele. "The presumption in government is that it's open to the public. Let the public in. Let the press in. Budgets are awkward but that's your job."

    Councilmen Joe Smolinski, Ed Rosone and Mike Ramaglia, all on the council last year, said the process worked well last year.

    "Last year worked very good. It wasn't very popular but the end result was good," said Rosone. "I'm for the sub-committees. It's a more relaxed setting. Then we'll get it out to the public."

    Smolinski,too, favored the process used last year. He said the department heads loved the process too. He did suggest that arrangements could be worked out so that the mayor could be part of the process this year.

    "We're gonna have to get hot and heavy with the directors (during the budget process)," said Smolinski. "I don't want to do that in public."

    No decision was made on how the meetings will be held or when, or who will be allowed to attend. The township's new administrator, Nancy Gage, was appointed last week and will be coming on board within two weeks, getting her feet wet with this budget process.