Council still deadlocked on 2019 budget

West Milford. The proposed $35 million 2019 township budget remains just that, proposed.

| 15 Aug 2019 | 11:39

Township Council members could not muster the four votes needed to pass its proposed $35 million budget for 2019 during its meeting Wednesday night.

With four votes needed to pass the spending plan, and two council members absent from the meeting, the best the governing body could do was vote 2-2 to adopt the budget.

Councilwomen Ada Erik and Marilyn Lichtenberg supported the plan as it is, which currently carries an increase of about 2.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, while council members Patricia Gerst and Lou Signorino voted against the measure.

Council members Andie Pegel and Peter McGuinness were absent from the meeting, and both had notified the administration ahead of time, Mayor Michele Dale said.

The increase would cost the owner of a $250,000 assessed home about $63 more.

The bone of contention between the four attending members Wednesday night was the use of the town’s $987,000 surplus to fill all, or part of the roughly $700,000 increase in spending this year.

Signorino and Gerst said they supported using the money in the surplus, and taking out around $161,000 in other budgetary savings to fill the hole and give residents an increase of zero this year.

Erik and Lichtenberg opposed using any of the surplus because it may be needed in the future for emergencies and could lower the town’s bond rating from AAA+ to A, costing the municipality more to borrow funds in the future.

Erik said she would be willing to compromise by cutting spending by about 1-cent per $100 of assessed valuation, or about $246,000 in actual dollars from the plan.

Signorino also said he was willing to compromise and decreased the amount of surplus he initially wanted to use to about $250,000, leaving the town with about $700,000 still in reserve.

He said that he was mainly interested in getting to a $0 increase in the tax rate.

Erik said that kind of compromise would only benefit his side of the dispute, not giving her and Lichtenberg protection of the surplus funds.

Signorino made the point that the surplus realized last year, around $4.2 million, was the largest amount in the nine years he has served on the governing body.

Acting Township Administrator and Budget Consultant Bob Casey said that was true, but the council is also spending a record $3.8 million of that to offset increases this year.

He also said the town “regenerates” about $3.4 million in surplus each year as a moving three-year average.

This is not the first time that the council failed to move the budget forward.

Council members tried meeting twice in July to finalize the budget, but could not get the four votes needed to move it forward.

Three members were absent from a special July 1 budget meeting, including Signorino, Pegel and McGuinness.

A quorum of four members is needed for the meeting to be official.

All three did notify Dale and Casey that they would not attend the meeting, but Casey said that he reached out to McGuinness who said he would try to attend, but then could not.

The council tried again at its July 17 meeting with only McGuinness absent, but deadlocked with a 2-3 vote, with Signorino, Pegel and Gerst voting against the plan.

Once again, the budget will be moved forward and discussed at the council’s Sept. 4 meeting.