The actual crafting of the 2011 budget actually began in December 2010, however the meeting held on February 10th marked the first gathering of the 2011 governing body to discuss financial matters.
Discussions began with an aside from Ken Blum, the Borough’s Chief Financial Officer, giving an update on the Roselle Park Youth Baseball & Softball League (RPYBSL) ball fields. Mr. Blum stated that the council will need to vote on a resolution in reference to a request by the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection). This resolution, if approved, would authorize the expenditure of an amount not to exceed $2,900. With this final action by the Borough, Mr. Blum stated that all indications are that the fields are cleared for their reopening date of April 2, 2011.
After this short discussion the room’s tone changed from matters of legislation and the more uplifting expectation of the re-opening of the long closed ball fields, to the more pressing matters of Borough finances, and the 2011 Municipal Budget. Mr. Blum started by stating that the Borough had not regenerated its surplus, falling short approximately $133,000. A decrease in revenues was cited as the reason for the failure to regenerate the funds. Mr. Blum also stated that the net valuation taxable for the year 2011 is down $348,063.
“Your tax base is down, and this is largely due to [tax] appeals,” Blum stated to the governing body.
The implementation of the state mandated 2% tax levy cap that went into effect January 1, 2011 was also discussed. With a ‘hard-cap’ of 2%, the Borough would only be permitted to increase the average tax bill about $50. “However,” the CFO explained, “this is not a hard-cap and there are allowable exclusions; such as: increases in shared services agreements, health insurance costs, pension obligations, capital improvements, debt service, capital leases, recycling tax, and current year deferred charges as in emergencies.”
These exceptions allow Roselle Park and other municipalities to increase the tax levy above and beyond the 2%. In the case of the Borough, it increases the maximum amount to be raised by taxes to $1,088,794.96. Mr. Blum noted that if the council were to consider increasing the amount to be raised by taxes more than the specified amount, there would be a need for a public referendum. Therefore, exceeding the extended cap would be an additional cost to the municipality, an idea to which Mayor Accardi responded, “I don’t think that it is a route that we should consider under any circumstances.”
Moving on, Mr. Blum stated that revenues are projected to hold steady for 2011 with the exception of anticipated state aid. For 2011 the Borough is projecting the $223,741 loss, bringing the state aid (revenue) figure down to just over $863,000. This projection reflects 20.64% decrease is state aid. The salaries and wages for municipal employees are also projected to be frozen at current levels, with two (2) exceptions. Contractual obligations with the crossing guards under municipal payroll will receive a 3.75% increase in 2011. Similarly, dispatchers will receive a 2.00% increase. These contracts are set to expire at the end of 2011 and 2012 respectively.
The major discussion topic among members of council was on the option to hire two (2) new police officers to fill ‘open’ positions in the Roselle Park Police Department. The RPPD regularly has a force comprising 34 individuals of different ranks. However, they have been working with a force of 32 because of two (2) recent retirements. If the municipality were to fall below the threshold of 34 police officers into the month of March it would lose a grant totaling $53,732 for the coming year. On the other side of the argument, if the Borough were to choose not to hire two additional police officers the expenses for salary and benefits would not need to be factored into the budgetary equation.
Councilman Yakubov asked the question of whether the Police Chief had indicated that he felt public safety would be compromised by not hiring two officers. To that, Councilman and Public Safety Chairman Modesto Miranda responded that in meetings between the Public Safety committee and the Police Chief, he had indicated that public safety would be compromised based on the departments current operating levels.
Adding to the conversation, and in an effort to help council toward a decision, Councilman Marc Caswell questioned what the ideal number would be for a police department to serve a community that is one (1) square mile. “We could look at other municipalities to see what their police office to citizen ratio is… If our ratio is way higher, is that a problem? …Maybe not, maybe it is, I don’t know.”
The council decided that Chief Morrison would be brought in at the next budget meeting to answer questions and give his input and suggestions on the issue.
Others issues including Municipal Court, DPW, ‘red-light’ cameras, bulky waste pickup, and the privatization of the cleaning of Borough buildings were discussed briefly. No final decisions were made by council, but all issues are posed to be brought up at future meetings for final decision. As a final measure, the governing body moved into closed session to discuss matters of shared services negotiations.
At the conclusion of the meeting the current draft of the municipal budget reflected a $327.96 tax increase to the average household assessed at $65,000. The next municipal budget meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, February 16th at 6:30 pm.