Maplewood Township officials are faced with a conundrum. Township services such as police, fire, public works and public health have never been more necessary or in demand.
But revenue is showing unprecedented reduction, with fees down and property taxes looking to take a hit come the May 1 quarterly payment. Yet the township’s bills are still due — including a hefty monthly payment to the school district — and no relief is coming as yet from Trenton or Washington, D.C.
“We have to introduce our budget next month and adopt in June,” said Township Committee member and Finance Committee Chair Vic DeLuca at the TC’s April 21 meeting.
“We still have to have a balanced budget as required by the state. If we end up with an imbalanced budget at the end of the year, that imbalance has to be in the next year.”
“We have a lot of unknowns with our revenue figures,” explained DeLuca. “A significant portion of our budget is received through programs and service fees, rentals, interest, court fines, licenses, construction-related fees — and those are all down. Those are down significantly. And that doesn’t even deal with the pool; we are just talking about the operating budget.”
DeLuca said, “Based on the information we’ve looked at, we think we will be roughly about $1.5M short.”
Although some of the shortfall would be offset by expenses that the Township would not incur — “for example, for some of the rentals, we have to hire attendants” — DeLuca explained that the savings was “not significant.”
In addition, he said, “We looked at the capital budget; there was really not much of a savings to do anything there.”
The former mayor then referenced a story in which NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney proposed furloughing state and local employees. “We looked at that. We want to make sure that we continue to provide services to our residents. Now is not the time to be talking about reducing police and firefighters, our DPW [Department of Public Works] people who are out there every day, our health department people, our people who are working behind the scenes to make everything run.”
Although he said that the Township wasn’t “thinking about any layoffs or furloughs at this time,” it might become necessary down the road: “We will take a look at that as we go along. We’ll see what the state comes up with.”
DeLuca added, “We do feel it would be inconsistent for us as a township to reduce staff or staff salaries at a time when we’re are advocating for protecting paychecks and employees in the private section. … We’re going to have to be able to pay our employees. This is why it’s so important to get that Congressional bill through and get support for the government similar to what they are doing for the private sector.”
Regarding property taxes, DeLuca had bad news for residents looking for immediate relief for the May 1 quarterly payment.
“The state statute is very clear that taxes have to be paid in four installments and if unpaid becomes delinquent. We don’t have the ability at the local level to change that May 1 installment date. At this point we have not received any information from the state that that date will not be adhered to.” In fact, DeLuca said that local officials were “hearing the opposite; that date will stick.”
He did note that there is a 10-day grace period without interest or penalty. In addition, the township hoped to have some aid for resident for future quarterly payments: “We are discussing what we might be able to do to mitigate difficulties but it will not be for the May 1 date.” Mayor Frank McGehee later noted that the TC was passing a resolution that night [April 21] to allow taxpayers to pay in partial payments — something that was previously not done or accepted.
DeLuca stressed that the Township could not do without the tax collection.
“Essentially the money we get comes primarily from property tax and if we don’t get the property tax, we can’t pay our bills.”
“We have $15.5M we have to pay out at the end of April, beginning of May,” said DeLuca.
TC member Nancy Adams asked about having staff forgo 2% annual pay increases. Mayor McGehee said that had been discussed but that the leadership wanted to maintain “high moral” for staff. DeLuca responded, “There are contractual agreements negotiated with our various bargaining units. We did not discuss going back to open up those agreements.”
Adams noted that there were non-contractual staff and that the TC was weighing saving jobs vs. providing increases.
DeLuca responded, “For non-contractual employees, it’s a pretty small number. Our feeling was if we have to do furloughs, be strategic and spread the pain across all departments and do it that way.”
Finally, DeLuca noted that the sewer fee payment deadline would be pushed from June 15 to June 30. Bills will go out by mid-May. “This will give people a little extra time to cover that bill. That we have the ability to do.”