Scotch Plains Town Council Presented with Preliminary Budget
Budget figures remain fairly consistent with last year's line items.
The 2012-2013 budget was introduced for preliminary consideration to the Scotch Plains Town Council Thursday, with minimal changes to the previous year's line item distribution.
The town will be working with a $22,262,564.58 budget, divided between legal costs, engineering, capital and insurance costs, public safety and expenditures.
Municipal Manager Christopher Marion said the budget was presented to the council earlier than last year in an attempt to get projects funded quicker. He walked the council members through the budget, highlighting the areas that differ from previous years.
The budget will be formally presented to the council on Monday, with another budget workshop on Tuesday. The completed budget will be presented for vote at the next council meeting on April 17.
Taxes will increase by $46.28 in the proposed budget, bringing the total to $1,789.24 for the average Scotch Plains home.
Taxes could possibly be reduced if the council decides to tap into a sewage surplus, adding $100,000 to the budget.
Councilman Kevin Glover said the council should add the extra money to ease the tax burden on Scotch Plains residents. If the 100,000 is added, the tax increase would be reduced to $12.18 per average household.
The argument against Glover’s proposal would be that the additional $100,000 would reduce the surplus from $450,000 to $350,000, which might not cover rate increases for the next year.
Marion said the budget's goal was to keep finances stable with last year's fiscal year, and so the proposed $100,000 was not an option when creating the initial budget layout.
The proposition will be put as a resolution for Thursday’s meeting.
Besides additional funding, municipal state aid and public safety budgets remain stagnant, as the most costs to the city will be with engineering and town maintenance.
One of the new line items added to the public safety budget will be an e-ticketing system where those who were issued tickets can pay fines online.
The overtime budget for public safety will also be altered after last year’s budget $160,000 was not sufficient due to the storms. The public safety department paid $271,224.26 in overtime, which Police Chief Brian Mahoney attributes to not enough dispatchers and vacancies in the department. The department has eliminated two full-time positions.
The town will also be installing a new 9-1-1 system after deciding not to pair with the county’s dispatch system. The town’s own system has been defunct for year, Marion said, even though it did not affect public safety in the area. The town has been negotiating the cost of the new dispatch, currently priced at $73,000.
“It’s the big ticket item,” Marion said.
Marion also broke down parts of the budget, specifically legal fees, into special categories to track litigation costs, which is budgeted as a $275,000 operating cost.
“We are trying to track costs throughout the year,” Marion said.
The budget also allocates $450,000 for the annual road improvement program, which fixes and paves streets in town. Each year, between 12 and 15 streets are chosen for repairs. The budget includes reparations for Cooper Road, Brookside Road and Cushing Road, among others, including two roads chosen last year though the projects could not have been completed due to storms.
The council recommended two capital projects for the fire department, including a generator for the fire station.
As part of the capital budget, Marion presented upgrades for the television studio, including new cameras and microphones – a move that Glover should be a “wish-list” item.
The improvements would cost $19,650. Glover said he is willing to pass increased budgets for public safety, but thinks the money needs to be examined whether it should be allotted for this cause.
“It just seemed like a glaring item,” he said.