Revisions likely before budget adoption, Hearing set for July 19

MIDDLETOWN – Township officials introduced a $64.9 million proposed spending plan on June 21 that reflects the township’s concerted effort to reduce costs and keep the tax rate stable. The proposal includes a 15% reduction in departmental funding requests, 40 staff reductions, and reduced recreation services.

Under the proposed spending plan, the municipal tax rate would increase 4.85 cents to 39.85 cents per 100 of assessed valuation. This represents an increase of 2.8 percent on the total property tax bill and would equate to an additional $211 annually or $17.66 monthly on the average home assessed at $437,000.  Historically, the municipal tax rate is about 20 percent of the tax bill homeowners receive. Another 19 percent is the county’s portion of the bill. The final 61 percent goes to school taxes.

“Revisions will likely be made to the proposed budget before adoption to bring these numbers down,” said Mayor Gerard P. Scharfenberger. “Because this is a difficult budget year, it’s critical to look at other ways to fund the operation of the town besides property taxes. Proposals include greater use of inter-local agreements and installation of solar panels at the train station commuter lot.”

The proposed 2010 budget addresses more than $8 million worth of major budget hurdles. Without these obstacles, the total proposed funding appropriations could have been $61,564,576 or have been $241,000 less than the total appropriations in 2009. Major issues in this year’s budget include:

  • $1,564,911 loss in 2010 state aid. This loss comes after a $640,000 reduction in 2008, $184,000 in 2009.
  • $1.4 million for prior year’s salary increases from resolved labor contracts;
  • $1 million increase in health care costs,
  • $900,000 for snow and rain storms clean up,
  • $855,000 in deferred employee health insurance bills,
  • $760,000 for unexpected retirements. Cost includes payments for unused sick and vacation time.
  • $1.8 million increase in pension payments mandated by the state.

Despite these factors, the proposed 2010 municipal budget funds essential and core community services including police protection, maintenance of more than 300 miles of road health, thousands of fire, and building inspections, library services, leaf and brush collection, recycling, snow removal, and senior services, storm drain cleaning, animal control, planning, zoning and community development.

The township budget is the only portion of the total tax bill that the governing body controls. What’s more, 81 percent or more than $53 million of the township’s proposed budget is considered non-discretionary for reasons including state mandates, contractual obligations and voter-approved referendums. Examples of non-discretionary allocations that must be included in the 2010 municipal budget are $3.58 million in pension costs, $3.98 million state-mandated library funding, and $325,000 for the voter-approved Length of Service Awards Program that provides benefits to active firefighters and first aid members, according to Township Administrator Anthony Mercantante.

Less than $12 million or 20 percent of the township’s proposed budget is discretionary. Measures being implemented to further enhance the township’s long history of fiscal efficiency include, but are not limited to:

  • A 15% reduction in 2010 department funding requests.
  • Purchasing natural gas and electricity as part of a collective of 119 government entities known as the New Jersey Sustainable Energy Joint Meeting (NJSEM) instead of from the utility company. The move is slated to save approximately $160,000 per year.
  • 40 staff/position reductions since January 1, 2010. This includes 20 retirements, 16 layoffs and 4 resignations.
  • Funding the 2010 Summer Concert Series with community and business sponsors.
  • Continued limitation of overtime for non-essential personnel without approval of the Township Administrator.

 

The introduced budget can be viewed at www.middletownnj.org. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for July 19, 8 p.m. In the meantime, officials continue to seek more places to trim an already tight budget and new ways to reduce expenses. Measures under currently under consideration include:

  • Eliminating or reducing a $25,000 annual contribution to the Poricy Park Conservancy for programs and events.
  • Transferring $20,000 worth of Special Events to the Arts Center with funding to be acquired through the Middletown Township Arts and Cultural Council.
  • Limiting or eliminating the hiring of 6 new police officers until 2011.
  • Canceling Middletown Day unless sufficient sponsorship is found.
  • Closing the township’s skateboard park and mini-golf course.
  • Closing the Police Department’s Community Relations Bureau and suspending the DARE program.
  • Limiting lifeguards on municipal beaches to weekends only.