December 21, 2009
In Middletown today, Committeeman Sean F. Byrnes called for sweeping changes to the way Middletown does business. Since joining the Committee in 2008, Byrnes has continuously called for the creation of a Finance Committee to oversee the preparation of Middletown’s budget, evaluate expenses and investigate restructuring how services are delivered. However, his efforts have failed to garner support from Republican members of the Township Committee.
Citing the worst budget environment in the Township in 20 years , Byrnes called on his fellow Committee members to make dramatic changes to the way the Township does business:
“We find ourselves sinking deeper into debt with fewer tools for pulling ourselves out. Last year, we limped through the year relying upon one-time revenue line items, a request to exceed our cap on increasing tax levies to citizens, and a decision to defer $1.5 million in pension contributions. Yet, by year’s end, we still needed an emergency appropriation of $1.4 million, payable in 2010, to pay escalating health care expenses. I am estimating that we begin 2010 with a shortfall that approaches $5.0 million. We will need a specific plan, very early in the year to offset this shortfall.”
To address the looming budget shortfall, Byrnes has recommended exploring the following cost-saving measures:
- Requiring all capital spending projects in 2010 to be competitively bid among 5 pre-approved engineering firms.
- Retaining the Township attorney and other professionals to operate on a fixed fee monthly retainer basis and eliminate all hourly billing for all but complex litigation.
- In 2010, combining the property maintenance functions within Public Works and the Parks & Recreation Department into one Department within the Department of Public Works, responsible for all property maintenance.
- In 2011, combining the property maintenance functions currently operated separately by the Board of Education and the Township Committee into one department to maintain all property within the Township.
- Eliminating the Sewerage Authority thereby eliminating the administrative, overhead and professional fees associated with the operations of this Authority.
- Soliciting private contracts for 50% of the leaf and brush pickup in 2010 and a larger percentage in ensuing years.
- Shifting to a once per week trash pickup in conjunction with mandatory recycling of paper and a campaign to encourage a far greater percentage of composting within the Township. Reducing the volume of paper and vegetable waste will substantially reduce the volume of disposable waste and the need for more than one trash pickup per week.
- Offer early retirement to the more senior maintenance workers in the Parks & Recreation Department and Public Works Departments where salaries in the Parks & Recreation Department dedicated to property maintenance exceed $1.0 million.
- Commence discussions with the Library Board to consolidate the Arts Center operation into the Middletown Public Library, which has a steady funding source and currently offers arts programming that is similar to programs offered by the Library.
- Continue the initiative started by Committeeman Fiore to negotiate a new health care payment arrangement, as the existing self-insured relationship for claims has produced double-digit increases in costs that cannot be sustained.
On a County-wide basis, Byrnes has recommended a consolidation of police, fire and school administration.
“The taxpayers cannot sustain the spiraling salary, benefit and pension costs that follow the large administration that oversees the delivery of police, fire and educational services. We need our locally elected State representatives in Monmouth County to propose State-wide legislation that gives counties and municipalities the ability to engage in consolidation efforts and other cost-sharing measures. The current statutory and regulatory framework ties the hands of municipalities that might be willing to take bold steps to cut costs. ”
Mr. Byrnes also pointed out that two Township officials, Deputy Mayor Scharfenberger and Township Attorney Brian Nelson have been appointed to the transition team for Governor –elect Christie.
Citing the rare opportunity presented by the current economic climate and voter dissatisfaction, Byrnes said, “I am hopeful that Mr. Scharfenberfer and Mr. Nelson will seize this opportunity and advocate for sweeping changes to the laws that foster duplication and overlap of governmental services. As an example, the legal separation of Boards of Education and municipal government is too stark. There must be greater shared services between these public entities and even some degree or merger of some functions such as property maintenance, recreation, human resources and purchasing.”
“The old system is broken, everyone knows it, and we need to be creative and willing to re-design how services are delivered to taxpayers at the local, county and state level. If we do it right, the end product will look a lot different than what we have right now.”