Township introduces $30.8 million budget

| 01 Jun 2012 | 02:02

WEST MILFORD — The township council introduced its 2012 municipal budget Tuesday night, a budget totaling $30.8 million.

That is up from last year’s budget of $30,444,202. The increase to the average West Milford homeowner, whose house is assessed at $247,000, is about $86, according to the township’s auditor Chuck Ferraioli. This follows last year’s budget that had no increase to homeowners.

The solid waste district budget is $2,033,357, down $31,000 from last year’s budget.

The council had requested that any increase should remain under $100 for the average assessed home. That was achieved, although Councilman Joseph Smolinski pointed out that this budget is simply introduced; the council may make more cuts before the budget is adopted next month.

Assessments an issue On top of the increase in taxes, many homeowners are facing dramatic increases in their taxes because of the revaluation that took place last year and goes into effect this year. Hundreds of residents have challenged their new assessments, which are now being heard by the county. Councilman Lou Signorino asked Ferraioli if the township could implement those increases in stages for homeowners seeing big hikes but Ferraioli said that isn't possible. Everyone gets revalued at the same time.

The township assessor, Brian Townsend, will make a presentation to the mayor and council on Wednesday, June 6, about the revaluation process.

Departmental budgets The police department’s budget is the largest by far in the township at $5.9 million, up $142,000 from last year’s budget. Police Chief Gene Chiosie requested funding for four new vehicles but was cut about $80,000 and will get two vehicles instead. Chiosie also asked for two additional officers; that too was shot down by the council. The department has 44 sworn officers; Chiosie wanted to expand the force to 46 to meet the recommendation of the FBI-LEEDA Report. Instead, the council will replace Chiosie, who is retiring in July, and Lt. Thomas Celano, who retired in February.

The West Milford Policemen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) wrote a letter to the mayor and council, dated May 21, about their decision not to hire the two additional officers. The added officers would bring the department more in line with the FBI-LEEDA study and also help with the Special Operations Unit, which includes a dive team, according to the letter.

The Department of Public Works department was reduced over $700,000 from the requested budget of about $4.1 million, in part by reallocating funds from last year.

“We removed over $500,000 from the snow budget because of the absence of significant storms this past winter,” according to Nancy Gage, the township’s administrator. “As we knew we did not need that much funding this year, we allocated these funds in our operating budget to capital purchases to avoid incurring debt for these necessary purchases.”

The Engineering Department budget is $10,000 over last year’s expended amount. The Health Department will see a slight drop in its departmental budget.

The township will buy a new dump truck this year for the DPW and five miles of road resurfacing will be done.

In all, the council and administration cut $372,365 from the departmental requests.

Cap bank established The council voted down an ordinance to exceed the municipal budget appropriation limits and establish a cap bank, against Ferraioli's recommendation. Ferraioli asked them to reconsider, since it would have an impact on next year’s cap. He explained that this is not an addition to taxes; instead it’s more a bureaucratic issue, an insurance policy in case of an emergency. He said if they don’t approve this, they would lose their cap bank next year.

Mayor Bettina Bieri explained the township could go to emergency appropriations if needed in the case of a severe storm, for example, without losing services.

“It’s the financially prudent thing to do,” she said. “You’re not increasing taxes, but it’s there if you need it.”

Councilman Lou Signorino compared it to a line of credit.

The council then voted to approve the ordinance.

The public hearing for the budget is set for June 27.