Middletown Township Facing a $3.79 Million Budget Deficit: GOP Majority Unwilling to Make Hard Choices

A few weeks ago I asked Middletown Committeemen Sean F. Brynes and Patrick Short, for  their thoughts on how this year’s Township budget was shaping up.  They both expressed concerns about how their ideas, suggestions and previous business and budgeting experiences are being ignored  by the GOP majority that controls the Middletown committee. 
At this moment, Middletown is facing a $3.79 million budget shortfall. Brynes and Short are concerned about this because it seems as if the GOP majority of  Mayor Pam Brightbill, Deputy Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger and Committeeman Tony “the Fibber” Fiore, are not taking the process seriously enough to make the hard decisions necessary to balance this years budget. 
Comitteeman Brynes sent me the following letter to further expresses his thoughts and concerns about Middletown’s budget shortfall and taxpayers:

The Middletown Township Committee has a daunting task when it comes to balancing this year’s budget. Even with freezing spending at 2008 levels, anticipated expenses exceed revenues by $3.79 million, with the lion’s share of spending dedicated to salaries and benefits, squeezing the budget for a $3.79 million reduction in operational spending is almost impossible. Unfortunately, the structural changes that are needed to truly reduce spending take time. Reductions in personnel hold the greatest potential for achieving substantial budget savings, but we have waited too long to take action.

Last summer, I introduced a resolution to create a Finance Committee, so that we could begin the work of trimming our budget. At the time, then Mayor Scharfeberger criticized this idea, assuring the public that the Township had cut as much as we could, and further cuts were not possible. Further cuts are always possible. It becomes a question of what you are willing to give up in order to achieve spending reductions. The Township Committee can decide what programs we will continue and what programs will be suspended. It is our job to set policy. The current times call for unprecedented steps to curtail spending. Some programs, even some very popular programs, may need to be suspended until our economy improves. Our overriding goal should be to avoid burdening our taxpayers with any additional tax obligation, especially when some of our residents are about to be hit with increased costs of flood insurance.

I agree that we are at the mercy of State funding reductions, but that’s the hand we’ve been dealt. We need to focus our efforts on softening the blow to taxpayers. I was pleased when my fellow Committee members agreed last week to schedule emergency meetings with all Department heads to review departmental spending and evaluate opportunities for reducing expenses. Everything should be on the table. We will not bridge the $3.79 million shortfall unless we squeeze every available line item. We have entered the month of March. We need to take action soon. As time passes, the amount of spending we can cut diminishes. I have proposed asking all professionals to accept 10 to 15 percent reductions on their professional contracts. I have introduced an ordinance to eliminate health benefits and salaries for commissioners on the sewer authority and their alternates. We don’t need 7 sewerage commissioners collecting benefits when we have a Township Committee of 5 who don’t get any health benefits.

Other savings opportunities are available to the Committee. We need to correct whatever operational problems are generating utility bills over $200,000 at the Arts Center. We need to consider consolidating some activities, perhaps merging the Arts Center with the Library. Recent legislation introduced at the State level would cut the Library’s funding in half. I oppose such a draconian cut. It would have a devastating effect on the services our Library provides. However, if we were to agree to continue the Library’s current level of funding, even if such legislation were passed, I think it would make sense to merge the Arts Center into the Library’s operation. We should move quickly toward outsourcing much of our property maintenance, thereby alleviating the costs associated with purchasing lawn mowers, equipment, and the servicing costs associated with them. We should ask our Board of Education to join in this effort. There is little reason that our parks, ball fields and recreational properties need to separately managed and maintained by two separate governmental entities. Our leaf pickup operation also needs an overhaul and could also be done by contractors. Hiring and paying Township employees to engage in these activities is extremely expensive when you consider compensation, benefits, etc. Recreational activities such as concerts, Middletown Day, etc. may need to be suspended if they cost more than they bring in. Obviously, suspending events like these should be temporary measures taken in a time of crisis. However, they must be on the table.

We have our work cut our for us, but these are challenging times. We will no doubt pull through this current economic slump, but in the interim, we need to ensure that the taxpayers, already feeling the pinch of a sinking economy, are not handed a higher tax bill.

If anyone would like to contact Committeeman Sean Byrnes directly, in order voice your ideas or concerns about this years budget or anyother subject that concerns you, he can be reached at the email address below.

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Filed under Budget, Cultural Arts Center, Gerry Scharfenberger, Middletown, Middletown Board of Education, Middletown Library, Pamela Brightbill, Patrick Short, Sean F. Byrnes, Tony"the fibber"Fiore

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