South Orange Village President: Town Is Facing ‘Devastating’ Budget Impacts

by Mary Mann
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“We are experiencing devastating impacts on our budgets,” South Orange Village President Sheena Collum announced at the April 13, 2020 meeting of the South Orange Board of Trustees.

“Our hopes and dreams for 2020-2021 are just not happening.”

In a follow-up conversation, Collum explained that the township was facing a loss of over $1M in net revenue.

“We had our normal budget ready for adoption and now we have our COVID-19 budget which reflects a reduction of over $1M in net revenue generating primarily from reduction in fines from our courts, uniform construction fees, interest on investments and deposits, fees and permits, and losses as it relates to summer programs (camps, pool, recreation, etc.),” wrote Collum in an email that she shared.

She added, “We also need to plan for a reduction in overall tax collection rates.”

At the BOT meeting, Collum continued, “The budget that we ultimately introduce is going to reflect that our residents are losing their jobs, being furloughed … businesses are closing.”

Collum said that a public budget workshop would be announced in the next “two weeks or so,” to create a new “post COVID-19 budget.”

“I apologize in advance,” said Collum. “We are in a totally different world. We are going to have to make some serious cuts and not deliver what we hoped to deliver and I am very sorry for that.”

Still, Collum stressed that social distancing and stay-at-home orders needed to be adhered to.

“We have been in the lowest tier in Essex County in terms of diagnosed cases of COVID-19,” she reported. “We need to continue on that trend. This is where we double down. We are not easing up on anything.” Collum said, “I’m so pleased with being represented by Gov. Murphy right now. The administration is being very aggressive.”

Collum added that tragic deaths of two South Orange residents made the pandemic “very real” for the community. “If anything, in honor of their memory please socially distance and please stay at home.”

Village Administrator Adam Loehner reported that Township operations “are as normal as they can be,” with staff working at home where possible and all necessary safety precautions being taken. Loehner said all the Township phone numbers are working and are being answered — albeit remotely.

The leaders of both Maplewood and South Orange have reported that deadlines for delivering municipal budgets to the state have been extended.

Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee told Village Green, “As it pertains to the budget, the DGLS (Division of Local Government Services of the Department of Community Affairs of the State of New Jersey) has provided the following flexibility to municipalities: Budget introduction moved from March 29 to Apr 28 or first scheduled meeting thereafter; Budget adoption moved from April 30 to May 30 or first scheduled meeting thereafter.”

Collum reported, “Governing bodies are receiving guidance from the State on budgets, they need to be adopted by the end of May or the first government body meeting after May 31.”

Village Green will continue to follow the budget processes for both towns, as well as the South Orange-Maplewood school district.

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