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.
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