Unless another Council member seconds Councilwoman Jayne Carr's motion to explore budget reduction measures, Englishtown residents can expect to see their taxes rise two cents per $100 of assessed property value in 2011.
A special meeting was held Wednesday evening at the to discuss budget and personnel matters. Scheduled to be formally introduced at a meeting March 23, the proposed budget includes a two percent raise for all borough employees, new computers for the police department, and a new police car.
Carr led off the meeting by stating that the recommendation of borough CFO Laurie Finger was to leave money in the surplus and raise taxes by two cents on the $100.
"At the end of the last budget workshop, my position was that in no way can I support a budget that supports a tax increase to the taxpayers in this economy," said Carr. "There's a lot of things in that budget that are either things we can take out and take surplus out and at the minimum come in at a zero increase to the taxpayers, or we could quite easily come in at a negative number."
Englishtown is anticipating a surplus generated from court revenues and water and sewer revenues. Court revenues, which would account for the , are produced by two part-time special traffic officers who issue an average of 60 or more tickets a weekend, according to a handwritten note included in the budget packet. Water and sewer revenues are brought in from wells that the town owns.
According to Carr, if $40,000 were to be taken from the either the court surplus or the water and sewer surplus, it would be enough to produce a budget with no tax increase without cutting the proposed two percent salary raise and police funding.
However, Carr said the town would like to maintain the surplus.
"They want to put it aside for a rainy day fund," said Carr in a telephone interview following the meeting. "They need to look out the window -- it's raining."
Neither Finger, Mayor Thomas Reynolds, nor any other Council members have been asked to verify Carr's stated use of the surplus as of publish time.
"In this economy, for everybody, whether they be working, not working, seniors, disabled, whoever it is, it's a struggling economy," Carr stated for the Council. "I don't see how we can responsibly say that we're having a tax increase of any kind this year on the part of the budget that we have control over."
Concluding her comments, Councilwoman Carr called for discussion on the proposed budget, but the only Council member to opine on the matter was Maryanne Krawiec.
"I have not decided yet how I will vote on this tax increase," said Krawiec. "Fundamentally, I don't believe that we should be raising taxes, however I understand why we would have a surplus, and so I'm on the fence which way I'll vote."
During the public portion of the meeting, resident Paula Kuchinski offered her opinion.
"It's past time for the Mayor and council to follow Governor Christie and Senate President Sweeney's lead to give the taxpayers a break," said Kuchinski. "The economical situation as a whole couldn't be worse and you have the unmitigated gall to even propose raising our taxes through your proposed budget. I tried to understand how last year you had no money, but this year you have all sorts of money to buy all these things."
Kuchinski went on to question the impact a tax increase would have on the borough's 92 householders 62 and older, who have not had an increase in social security in two years because of COLA, and the 212 renters in town. She also asked for the Council to consider using the surplus for infrastructure projects.
"Having been a taxpayer here for 36 years, my opinion is Englishtown Council has done very little to bring Englishtown back to its grandeur. In my opinion, our town looks worse now than it has in a long time. Perhaps if you put your heads together it might be possible to bring Englishtown back."
The proposed budget is set to be introduced on Wednesday, March 23 and can be adjusted down or up from that meeting before the scheduled adoption on Wednesday, April 27.
Carr suggested residents attend both meetings and let their voices be heard if they want the Council to consider amending the budget.
"The reason this is going through is because nobody comes out to hear what's transpiring. If the public comes here and makes some noise, the Council may change things," said Carr.
New Tax Assessor Hired
The Council also met Wednesday to hire a new tax assessor to replace the borough's former assessor, who retired. Several candidates were interviewed for the new position, but the Council unanimously approved the hiring of Mark Fitzpatrick of Lake Como by a 6-0 vote.
Fitzpatrick will collect an an annual salary of $6,000 and work part-time for a minimum of two hours a week. His hours will coincide with those of the borough's tax collector, which is currently Tuesday evenings 5 to 7 p.m. During this time the tax assessor will also to be available to the public.