Township Council to Decide Budget Changes by May 15
Two meetings have taken place between township officials and residents who volunteered to review the municipal budget to suggest possible cuts; a third meeting is planned. The decision how to amend the budget will be revealed at the council's next meeting
Members of Lawrence Township Council will have the next week-and-a-half to mull over the options and decide how they want to amend the 2012 municipal budget in the wake of the tax rate increase referendum’s rejection by voters last month.
During last night’s (May 1) council meeting, Township Manager Richard Krawczun explained that state officials had agreed to give township council until May 15 to make the necessary changes to the municipal spending plan. But the resolution that will affect those budgetary changes must first be reviewed by the state, meaning that the council needs to make its decision by May 11 to allow the state enough time to look over the resolution prior to the council's next meeting on May 15.
An amendment is needed because the budget that was formally introduced by council on March 20 included the 9-cent tax rate increase that was the subject of the referendum. With that tax rate hike rejected, changes totaling $2.275 million must be made in order to balance the 2012 municipal budget. Options council members are considering include the use of nearly all of the township’s surplus fund, drastic cuts to the services and programs offered by the township, dozens of municipal layoffs, and the creation of a residential trash user free that would shift trash costs out of the municipal budget.
“I’ve had opportunity to talk to the Division of Local Government Services, [which] is the group within the Department of Community Affairs that has direct jurisdiction over municipal finances and much of our municipal operations here in New Jersey,” Krawczun told council members. “That being said, they have at least provided me with a verbal allowance to have action by the governing body on what would be known as an amendment [to the budget] by May 15. The way the amendment works is – because there was an introduced budget, and that budget had stipulated the amount of revenues and appropriations, and some of those revenues and appropriations will need to be changed – there is a resolution that identifies specifically the original amounts and the amended amounts. That resolution has to first be approved and reviewed by the Division of Local Government Services.
“I will need from the council your recommendations as to what levels of service you want to maintain, what levels of surplus funds you want to keep in the budget or take out of the budget, and if there are any other items – user fees or other revenue changes – that you may want to suggest. I can’t complete that work until I get that consensus and direction from the council as to the specifics that you’re interested in me including in that budget resolution,” Krawczun said.
He added, “It’s important for everyone to understand the council is the only body who has the legal authority to adopt the budget. When I say adopt the budget, that’s taking the budget through the process, from introduction to adoption…. Only the council can take action on the budget as far as what will be included in the final document.”
Depending on what changes council members decide upon, a public hearing on the budget amendment resolution may need to take place on May 15 prior to council taking any formal action. Specific criteria outlined by state law would determine the need for such a public hearing, Krawczun explained.
“I won’t know that until council gives to me your specific recommendations,” he said.
Also last night, Krawczun offered an update on the meetings that have taken place between township officials and the three residents who during the April 18 meeting volunteered their services to review the budget to suggest possible cuts.
Those volunteers are Ira Marks, a CPA and certified financial planner who lives on Pembroke Court; Max Ramos, a sales executive who lives on Woodlane Road; and Marvin Van Hise, an attorney who lives on Federal City Road who spent 40 years working for state and municipal governments and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
Krawczun said two meetings had taken place thus far, with the township represented by himself, Councilman Greg Puliti and Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis.
“I would hope the three gentlemen would at least concur that we’ve had a very professional dialogue. I think that it’s been a very cooperative environment,” Krawczun related. “There has been a lot of exchange of information, both as we have provided it and as the volunteers have taken a lot of the data and rearranged it in a fashion that we could look at a lot of questions, both from a financial side and an operations side. We’ve talked about individual line items of appropriations, so we have gotten to that level of detail.”
He said the most recent meeting took place Friday evening and that at least one other meeting is needed before a summary of the group’s findings are forwarded to council members.
“The three volunteers had provided us a list of possible suggestions, three scenarios on various appropriations. We tried to address each of those individually and at the same time we’ve provided a response to a number of individual questions, although in a very informal format, to their original set of inquiries. It would be my suggestion that we have at least another opportunity to meet.”
“We went through a lot of paper and had two lengthy meetings,” Puliti added. “It was very engaging. We sat down and talked about some of the things – statutorily and bargaining agreements – that we’re up against, and had a chance to hear their ideas. The professionalism of the public subcommittee…I need to thank all three of them.”
“I would echo the sentiments of council and the manager’s office,” Van Hise said in response. “And I would say that from our perspective it’s been a very fruitful dialog. Every bit of information, I believe, that we’ve asked for has been provided. We certainly realized, from the very inception, that we’re not adversaries. We’re all seeking to obtain the same objective. And kudos to the manager’s office. We were there till after 7 o’clock Friday night. And I’ve heard no complaints from anyone at any point in time.
“From my perspective, and I think I can speak for Mr. Marks and Mr. Ramos as well, we’ve been provided the information we asked for. There’s been no stonewalling. It’s been a very fruitful dialog,” Van Hise continued. “I really appreciate the manager’s and the councilpersons’ participation. I’ve found it very productive and very informative. We may not agree on all the issues, but we decided from the get-go that that may, in fact, be the case through the entire process. But the process has been very professional and fruitful.”
(Discussion on the municipal budget begins 31 minutes into the meeting audio, which can be found in the media box above.)
For Municipal Budget Background, See:
- April 25: “Balancing Lawrence Township’s Budget”
- April 20: “Help the Council Balance the Budget”
- April 20: “Council Gets an Earful in Wake of Referendum's Defeat”
- April 18: "Tax Increase, School Budget Shot down by Voters"
- April 16: “Governor Weighs in on Municipal Tax Referendum”
- April 16: “Sample Ballot for Tuesday’s Election Contains Error”
- April 13: “Letter to the Editor: Resident Opposed to Tax Hike Urges Council to 'Go Back to Drawing Board'”
- April 12: “Municipal Tax Referendum Forum to be Held Tonight”
- April 11: “Letter to the Editor: Township Manager Explains 'Need' for Tax Referendum's Approval”
- April 10: "Letter to the Editor: Municipal Tax Referendum is 'Best Option to Preserve Services With the Least Cost'"
- April 2: "Residents Grill Township Officials on Tax Referendum"
- March 28: “School Budget, Municipal Tax Referendum Subjects of Rival Meetings Thursday”
- March 26: “Municipal Budget Introduced, Stage Set for Tax Increase Referendum”
- March 26: “Last Chance to Register to Vote for School Board & Tax Referendum”
- March 20: “Township Manager Answers Tax Referendum Questions”
- March 14: “Trash ‘User Fee’ Would Be Mandatory If Tax Referendum Is Voted Down”
- March 8: “Usage Rate for Sewer Bill to Increase 15 Percent”
- Feb. 23: “36 Layoffs, Recreation Cuts Rejected by Town Council”
- Feb. 9: “Details of Tax Referendum, Other Alternatives Given”
- Jan. 18: “Township Manager Presents Proposed 2012 Budget, Recommends Referendum to Exceed Tax Increase Cap”