The Bloomfield Township Council did not get enough votes to pass the 2011 municipal budget on Monday night, falling shy of approval by one vote.
The council voted 3 to 2 for amending the proposed budget from $69.6 million to $70 million. Mayor Raymond McCarthy and Council members Bernard Hamilton and Peggy O'Boyle Dunigan supported the budget while Councilmen Nicholas Joanow and Robert Ruane voted against it. Council members Janice Litterio and Michael Venezia were not present.
Tension ran high during the workshop. Councilman Ruane shouted that he wanted the police department to re-open their union contracts and have workers pay more for pension and healthcare costs. "This budget is bloated and I will not accept it," Ruane said.
Mayor McCarthy said failing to pass the budget hinders public safety because the township would not be able to hire six new firefighters or purchase a new fire apparatus and replace seven police vehicles.
The township would need to pass the budget by July 1 or face additional cuts, Township Administrator Yoshi Manale said. Manale added that they cannot force the unions to re-open their contracts. After the meeting, Police Chief Christopher Goul declined to comment on the issue of re-opening union contracts. The proposed budget is slated to be discussed again at the next municipal meeting on June 20.
The proposed budget amendment was put forth because state officials required the township to remove $260,000 used in the revaluation out of the emergency appropriation line. The other proposed budget changes would have included funds for a shared service agreement with the Borough of Caldwell for health and animal control services, grants for a clean communities program, the municipal alliance on alcoholism and drug abuse, and H1N1 corrective action. The township also expected a higher rate in delinquent taxes.
If the budget was approved, the municipal tax rate would have changed from $1.16 to $1.28 per $100 of assessed value, the township's Director of Finance Robert Renna said. The taxes on an average home in the township would have only got up by $244, or 7.07 percent, however, because the assessment values actually dropped for an average home from $296,500 in 2010 to $286,900 in 2011, Renna said.
The biggest expenses in the proposed municipal budget include $2.6 million more in employee health costs and $1.29 million more in employee pension costs. Renna said seven jobs were cut through attrition and many government departments had cuts as well. The proposed budget has no layoffs or furloughs.
In other news
- The council passed a new littering ordinance that increases the municipal littering fine from $250 to $1,000 per violation. Manale said new signs will be posted throughout the township and there will be more enforcement of anti-littering laws by municipal employees.
- The council awarded a $1,034,670 contract to AMCO Enterprises to replace two boilers in the municipal building from the 1920s.
- Fire Chief Joseph McCarthy talked about the importance of having volunteer firefighters in the township and how some of the volunteers could be hired as full-time firefighters. He also mentioned the fire department is reconsidering the purchase of a quint, or a dual engine and ladder truck, because of the budget constraints and finding a vendor that can provide a truck that fits the 1930s firehouse. McCarthy said the fire department will "mothball" the idea of getting a new quint and put Engine One on a rotating basis.
- Police Chief Goul spoke about the importance of getting six new Crown Victorias and a new SUV to replace older patrol cars with more than 70,000 miles on the vehicles. Councilmen Hamilton and Joanow asked if the police could look into getting hybrid vehicles in an attempt to reduce fuel costs. Goul said he was concerned that hybrid cars would not have a cage regular police cars do and that the hybrid vehicles might have a lower safety standard and could cost more to repair if damaged.
- The council also created a rent control advisory board to study the issue of apartment rents in the township and create a written report on whether or not rent control laws should be reinstated in the township.
The advisory board will consist of seven members two tenants, two landlords and three members of the general public, Manale said, and they will look at how rent control has worked in other neighboring towns.
Mayor McCarthy said no time constraint has been set on when the council will have to complete the report. Councilman Ruane said it was good to study the issue, which is needed, and the board make-up would be fair.
Rent control became a political issue when several residents from Troy Towers - including Ruane - attended council meetings complaining of rent hikes ranging from 15 to 20 percent.
The council voted against bring back a municipal rent control law, which was removed in 1994. The proposal was rejected in a 4 to 2 vote on Feb. 14 and a 3 to 3 vote on May. 2.
Two renters who attended the workshop - Trish Comstock and Kevin Lindahl - were unhappy with the council's decision to create a rent control advisory board. Comstock and Lindahl are the president and vice president of the Bloomfield Tenants Organization.
Comstock, a retired teacher, said township officials "don't need to study it." Instead, she thought they should just reinstate the 1994 law.
Lindahl, a life guard, said creating an advisory board to look into rent issues "doesn't go far enough."
"We're just talking about an opinion," he said. "It has no teeth. It's just a think-tank."
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