Council Continues Work on Budget

For Roselle Park, 2011 has been labeled ‘Year of the Bad Guy’. To understand why, a resident need go no further than attending a municipal budget meeting. At 7 pm on Wednesday, February 23th, the Mayor and Council met for the fourth time to review and discuss ways to trim the Borough’s budget.

Ken Blum, CFO for the Borough, started the conversation with an update on state aid. Under his conservative recommendations, the council projected a cut of $223,741 – an over 20% drop in state aid from 2010 to 2011. However, Governor Christie’s budget reflects state aid to stay frozen at 2010 levels. Mr. Blum stated, “I’m glad to tell you, my prediction was wrong… Therefore we can add back in $223,741 in revenues.”

State aid revenues realized in the 2011 Municipal budget total $1,084,086. Mr. Blum also noted to the council that the borough will not be qualified for transitional aid (also known as extraordinary aid) because it does not meet several aspects of the eligibility criteria.

Mr. Blum explained that as of the second draft of the budget the cuts to appropriations of municipal departments total $270,091. Following the breakdown of the cuts that are already factored into the budget Mr. Blum laid out an additional set of cuts proposed by departments totaling $52,065, at the request of Mayor Accardi. “I asked for a 20% cut from departments because I realize it is the only way we can look at this budget realistically,” Accardi said.

Line ItemAmount
Buildings and Grounds$18, 350
Municipal Land Use Board$1,800
Traffic Control$1,075
Public Works$12,500
Community Center$650
Farmers Market$300
Cable TV34$820
Municipal Court$7,370
Maintenance of 911$1,000

The 20% cut reflects what the Mayor called a ‘Doomsday Budget’ scenario. Recounting his approach, Mayor Accardi noted, “I asked for a doomsday budget, but I think that we should go back and check to make sure that they (department heads) aren’t cutting the essentials.” With a consensus amongst council, the Mayor asked that all members reach out to their respective departments to ensure that they can effectively operate with these cuts. However, he asked the council to be careful when talking to their departments, reminding them that cuts need to be made and that exceptions should only be permitted under certain circumstances.

Moving forward, the tone of discussion quickly shifted. “I’d love to be able to tell you we can keep services the same,” Mr. Blum stated, “But if we’re looking to get the tax increase down to $100, or even less than that as some have talked about, than we need to make cuts, and we just can’t keep services the same… It is impossible.”

After the quick calculations Mayor Accardi stated  that, “After these cuts, to reach a $100 average tax increase, we would still need to cut nearly $350,000.”

Members of council offered suggestions to further reduce budget expenditures and though no action was taken on these ideas, they will be bringing updated information to the CFO and Finance Committee for consideration at future meetings.

During the public portion of the meeting, several of those present from the public put their comments and questions on the record. Responding to a question regarding what possible cuts were seriously being considered at this time, Mayor Accardi, citing a range of items, stated, “Really, everything is on the table for discussion,” mentioning strategies like furloughs, lay-offs, and the possibility of cutting items that have been considered “untouchable” in the past, such as bulk pick-up and the annual fireworks display.

“People like that, but the real people who have budgets realize that we can’t have fireworks because the government is broke,” resident Eugene Meola replied. Concluding his comments Mr. Meola remarked on the number of people present from the public, “With the size of this community, and with the people I’ve talked to, I’m amazed that this room isn’t filled… With the condition of this budget, it blows me away.” Out of a community of 13,297 only 6 members of the public took part in Wednesday night’s meeting.

Following the public portion of the meeting, the governing body went into closed session to discuss matters pertaining to contracts negotiations with the DPW and Clerical bargaining unit, as well as shared service negotiations with Kenilworth and the County. No action was taken, and formal budget talks stood adjourned until the next budget meeting on Wednesday, March 9th at 6:30pm.

Upon adjournment the average tax increase of a house assessed at $65,000 was down from $327.96 to $216.43… Still, far cry from the $99 average tax increase of 2010. With suggestions from council and the public, and with new opportunities being negotiated, that number is posed to drop. The message coming out of this meeting however was neither negative nor positive; it was a cautious reminder that in this tough year for small municipalities, everything is on the table.