South Orange Approves Budget, Funds SOPAC

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The South Orange Board of Trustees voted unanimously Monday night to approve its 2014 budget.

The $33,893,426.73 budget represents an overall tax levy increase of 1.05% from 2013, translating into a $59.57 tax bill increase for the average South Orange homeowner. (The average assessed home value is $459,766.09.)

Village President Alex Torpey introduced the budget resolution by stating, “We don’t take the passing of the budget lightly.”

He thanked Township Administrator Barry Lewis for putting the budget together, as well as department heads and other Board of Trustees members.

“There’s a degree of diligence here worth noting,” said Torpey, who added that Trustee Howard Levison and Lewis had worked hard to find “cost savings in a way that does not reduce the level of services but I would argue improves services.” Torpey added, “We’ve actually expanded some services.”

Torpey went on to state that the budget was a “very, very, very responsible budget” and took to task other towns who worked for 0% increases with “no thought to consequences.”

Torpey said that the a governing body needed to be “not only responsible to people who live here now but people who will live here in the future” and that a 0% increase was an “empty gesture.”

Lewis noted that the levy increase of 1.05% was “the lowest levy increase since at least 1999.”

As Lewis took the Trustees through a budget breakdown he explained that there was some “good news and bad news” with the budget “but in the end good news.” Among other revenue increases, Lewis noted that the village gained revenues in its PILOT (payments in lieu of taxes) due to new developments coming online, a phenomenon that should continue in coming years. Likewise, construction fees were up due to increased development in the town.

The “killer” on the “bad news” side was a payment that the village needed to make for an unfunded past due payment on PFRS (the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System). “We won’t have that next year,” said Lewis.

Earlier in the meeting, numerous residents and one non-resident spoke in support of the budget allocations for the South Orange Performing Arts Center or SOPAC. The allocations included a $300,000 direct subsidy and a $200,000 pass-through in revenues from Bow Tie Cinemas.

Residents spoke movingly about the benefits of SOPAC to the village’s image, to the vitality of the business community and to children’s education, but many also asked that the Trustees ensure that the arts center move toward self-sufficiency. SOPAC board member Paul Bartick described the arts center’s recent strategic planning initiative and promised that “a more proactive SOPAC will come out of this process.”

Lewis said that the budget details would be available online on the South Orange Village website as of Tuesday morning.

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