“I’m troubled by the .744% [tax rate],” said council member Kevin Ryan. “That’s a 7% increase on the municipal portion on top of a 6% increase last year. I’d like to see if we can draw that down a bit to see if we can provide some tax relief to the town.”
Councilman Jay Sniatkowski agreed but emphasized the increase was due to damages, amounting to $500,000, caused by the freak October snowstorm.
“We need to tweak that number,” Sniatkowski said. “I’m pretty confident we can get as close to flat as possible.”
Resident Lori Ruzich questioned the council on that point during the public portion of the meeting, noting the discrepancy between the council’s desires and their actions.
“You wish to have flat budget, then that’s how it should be,” Ruzich urged. “If that’s your goal, I hope it’s a goal you’ll achieve.” She added, “We’re all very hopeful that this will be the year.”
Sniatkowski explained the council’s apprehension with making budget cuts stems from a concern with getting caught short in future years.
“I like to be mindful of next year’s budget,” he stressed. “Decisions this year will impact the budget for next year.”
Acknowledging the challenges, Deputy Mayor Bob Manley pointed out, “Nobody up here wants to raise taxes.”
Township Manager Joe Martin defended the council, praising their approach in planning the 2012 budget. “We’re in better financial shape than any town in the region because the council has taken a multi-year position.”
Ruzich, however, was not persuaded. “We need a correction,” she said, adding, “While the economy is tanking we see decisions not reflective of that.”
Martin disagreed, saying, “Your approach will affect the credit worthiness of this town.”
Another resident, Al DeOld, sided with Ruzich, citing a recent Star-Ledger article, which reported the municipal portion of the town’s taxes have increased more than 35% in the past five years.
“I’m impressed with the programs and services of this town,” DeOld acknowledged, “however, it comes at a high price to the taxpayers.”
DeOld identified possible cuts. “I’ve found more than $500,000 that could be removed without loss of jobs.” He noted, however, a flat budget would require $1.37 million in cuts.
Martin seemed unmoved by the residents’ suggestions. “Yes, the budget has gone up every year.” But, he insisted, “The [budget] recommendations have been reasoned and reasonable.”
A formal hearing on the municipal budget will take place on May 7.
In other business, the council discussed parking rule changes after township resident Kim Cheung, who also owns Belle Gente Trattoria & Ristorante, brought up the matter troubling his business at the last council meeting.
According to Martin the town will be redoing the lot behind the restaurant, reconfiguring permit spaces and installing more parking meters.
Martin also announced additional funds have become available to the town recently through the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
“There is a $170 million pool of dollars sitting in Trenton that can be tapped on July 18,” he stated. Verona is eligible to receive $48,000, according to Martin, and he is determined to secure that money.
“We will find a way of fencing off that $48,000 before July 18,” he asserted.