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Committee Discusses Budget, Hiring Fewer Police

Borough administrator presents options for lowering tax increase.

In the context of lowering the tax impact from the 2012-13 municipal budget, the debated whether the township should hire three or four police officers this year at its March 27 meeting.

Committee members agreed to leave the four officers as planned for in the budget until the results from are finalized. Instead, some money will be borrowed from surplus to keep the projected tax rate increase around 2.37 percent, or a $55 increase for the average assessed home in the township.

New Township Administrator Victor Canning presented two main options to committee members for lowering the budget to reflect a no-increase budget for this year: either take more money out of the current surplus fund to reduce the increase or reduce the number of police officers the township was planning to hire from four to three. Canning did caution that the increase could go up regardless of which option the committee chose depending on fluctuating valuations of the homes in the township.

Several township committee members feared that going with the first option would put the township in a difficult financial situation next year, as the township is concluding its third and final year of being able to use revenue from canceled capital ordinances toward its budget. Committeemen Scott Gallopo and Don Kostka both said they felt the township should have a three-year budgeting plan to better be able to forecast budget situations of the future.

"The thing that makes me uncomfortable is we're making decisions without knowing what the impact of these decisions are, not only on this year, but on the prior year," Kostka said.

Canning said crafting the 2012-13 budget has been particularly difficult because of lost revenue in several departments: $42,000 less than anticipated in municipal court fees; $19,000 less in interest on taxes; $40,000 less in interest on deposits; and $90,000 less in construction fees.

"That's a significant amount of money in lost revenue," Canning said. "I like to think, optimistically, that some of those may go up with the economy getting a little better, with construction maybe increasing a little bit, but to be able to sign on the dotted line and guarantee you? I wouldn't be able to... The easiest way and the painless way is to take it from your surplus."

But Canning also said that in his professional opinion, he felt the township could survive with only hiring three officers instead of four under the 2012-13 budget. While Canning said the elimination of the fourth hire would not get the township to the level of increase it was at last year, by also using a small amount of money from surplus, the increase would be lowered per household. Canning referenced the ongoing police study and said he is confident that it may suggest changes in the department and also noted that six officers have indicated intentions to retire.

Committeeman Jim Sandham said he would rather leave the increase around 2.37 percent if it meant the township could still hire four officers and keep its surplus money. The cost to hire four officers for six months would be $133,972, while the cost to hire three officers for six months would be $102,806.

"I'm comfortable going out with the 2.37 (percent) if that's the final number and not depleting our reserves," he said.

Kostka said he would like for the committee to discuss the way new police officers are hired and perhaps reconsider funding their education. He said hiring police officers who have been laid off from other departments may be more cost-effective.

"When you hire a laid off policeman, you can start them at whatever salary you want," he said.

But Committeewoman Deborah Nielson said that concept is also being studied along with the police department study and that the township committee should not make decisions on such an idea as the members are not experts in the field.

When some committee members began to express interest in hiring only three officers with the possibility of some of the six officers who have expressed interest in retiring not retiring this year, Sandham questioned whether the committee was risking public safety.

"We are putting public safety, which is our No. 1 issue, at risk in the hopes that one of the six don't retire," he said.

Gallopo agreed and said he felt the township should plan ahead for the retirements, even if they do not happen this year.

"I'd rather over-budget and then have a happy savings if we don't need it than under-budget and then have a nasty surprise," he said.

Canning said he would not have made the recommendation if he felt it would compromise public safety. At the conclusion of the discussion, the committee members decided it was in the best interest of the township to wait until the police department study is complete before reducing the planned police hires from four to three and keep the increase at the projected 2.37 percent.

Which option do you feel the Montville Township Committee should take? Participate in our poll and share your thoughts in the comments below.

jf April 03, 2012 at 08:37 PM
The open space program is what makes this town in part so desirable so instead of looking for ways to increase revenue that may have other unpleasant ramifications, let's just make the cuts - since an inordinate amount of the budget goes towards the schools in this town, maybe we could cut or hold flat year on year these expenses. Also, if 6 police officers are retiring and we hire only 3 or 4 why is this line in the budget an issue - aren't the salaries of 6 officers more than 3 or 4???
Dan Grant April 03, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Residential Homes are losers when it comes to property taxes. 3-5 bedroom homes come with children who have to be educated at about $12,000 per year per child. Open space programs from the mid 09s to about 2005 stopped the building of about 350 homes that could easily have produced 700 additional children. The school tax represents about 65 percent of the budget. Instead of attacking our local services like the police we need a real overhall of how this state pays for their constitutionally mandated public education. Until then we need not to take it out on areas like Public Safety.
Mom Tlm April 04, 2012 at 12:55 PM
What happened to the 2% cap? We need to be SURE the current force is not wasting on duty time doing desk jobs like identify fraud and stolen credit cards. . This stuff is very very seldomly uncovered. Be actively on duty. As Jack said above, we had better wait for the assessment taxation results!! Further, we have Bush tax cuts to expire, implications of obamacare 2013, medicare tax increase, social security tax increase. You will continue to push foreclosures as you empty people's pockets if you keep pushing more more taxes!!!! Watch and plan ahead. The town did not pay attention to Senator Mike Doherty's Fair School Funding Act. He came 2-3 times to Montville to explain. We pay high school taxes in montville because NJ is draining our state income taxes for all the ABOTT districts to be highly priced per kid funded!! It's truly obscene. Look it up. You'll be sick to your stomach. Putting his BILL in place is where the solution is. But it will be a fight we all need to get behind. The state is DRAINING OUR POCKETBOOKS FOR THESE towns!!!!!!!
v April 04, 2012 at 10:34 PM
As Dan stated above, 19 square miles is a large area to cover when there are multiple emergencies that can occur at a given time- we don't need a study to tell us this! It is just amazing to me that our elected officials and residents would stand behind the reduction of our police force - I wonder if their feelings would change if they actually knew what our officers protect us from on a daily basis. As the old song goes..."you don't know what you got until its gone"...we are clearly headed down the wrong path here and I truly hope we will not regret these decisions later on.
Tina B April 07, 2012 at 12:15 PM
NEVER SCRIMP ON PUBLIC SAFETY. Hire the officers and cut something else. jf - 6 police officers are retiring which means that their salaries were probably much higher than what we could get 4 new officers for. It may be a wash in hiring 4 to replace them. I'd hate to have someone dial 911 and wait several minutes for an officer to respond to their emergency.

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