Daily Archives: July 12, 2010

Byrnes: 2% Cap Place Ball Squarely in Muncipalities’ Court

” The 2% cap is a good thing. It places real restrictions on municipal tax increases by capping additional tax levies year to year at 2%. But make no mistake, this law places the onus for tax relief on municipalities…The time to start planning for this cap is now…”Middletown Committeeman Sean Byrnes – Middletown Township Committee

This latest blog entry by Middletown’s Sean Byrnes takes on the proposed 2% cap on property taxes that is now making it’s way through the Legislature and how it will effect municipal budgets, particularly Middletown’s. He states that the time to start planning for the 2% cap is now, not next year, while waiting to see how much aid will be coming from the state.
Below is from his Mobilize Middletown blog that was posted late last night:
The 2% cap is a good thing. It places real restrictions on municipal tax increases by capping additional tax levies year to year at 2%. But make no mistake, this law places the onus for tax relief on municipalities. The Governor’s “tool chest” promises to make that job easier, but the job of cutting spending rests with the towns. The Governor and Assembly have sent a clear message that most of the hard work of saving tax dollars will take place at the local level. Given that reality, we need to prepare for the difficult work ahead.

To be clear, we operate under a 4% cap now, but there are numerous exceptions that make the existing cap toothless. The new law has just a few exceptions and will leave municipalities with little wiggle room. In any given year, if you have a category of spending (e.g. fuel costs) that increases by more than 2%, you will need need to cut spending elsewhere to offset that increase. Many municipalities, including Middletown, have not had the discipline to operate within a cap. Last year, against my vote, we applied for a waiver of the cap. We voted to defer our pension contributions (which will need to be repaid with interest over a term that starts in 2012), and by year’s end, we needed to borrow $800,000 from 2010 to pay 2009 expenses. This type of reckless spending must end.

The time to start planning for this cap is now. One of the biggest problems with the budget process in Middletown has been our failure to start the process until well into the fiscal year. This year has been no different. It is July, and we have not held a single public meeting to discuss our budget or how we should cut spending. Clearly, at this point, any annual savings to be achieved from budget cutting measures will only be 50% effective, since half the funds have been spent by now. The perennial excuse is that we don’t know exactly how much money we’re getting until the State gives us our revenue numbers several months into the year. The problem with that line of thinking is that it assumes we cannot make cuts until we know how much money we have. Obviously, uncertainly over our final revenue numbers does not stop us from planning layoff, furloughs, reductions in service, etc. We have waited too long, and we cannot afford to make that mistake again.

We should start working on the 2011 budget now. We need to assume that Governor Christie’s tool kit will pass. We should assess that tools that will be available to us, and we should start planning on how to use them. There will be difficult, contentious debates when it comes to jobs and benefits. We may need to reconsider our status as a civil service town. Our negotiating stance with Unions will toughen as the specter of mandatory arbitration is removed.

But even with these additional measures made available to us, a thorough, regular process for evaluating our services and the programs we deliver needs to be followed. Currently, we have no mechanisms or structure to ensure efficient execution of budget-cutting ideas and recommendations. No finance or budget committee. Without a more robust governance structure to engage in the work of following through on some of these budget-cutting ideas, we will never see their fruition. Some ideas that have been discussed but not yet implemented include: combining the maintenance functions in the Parks Department and Public Works Department, sharing maintenance functions with the Board of Education, outsourcing leaf and brush pickup, one day per week garbage pickup, and tougher enforcement of recycling laws. There are more suggestions, but no real process for implementing them. So, as we consider how we might use the Governor’s tools, let’s also put in place the committees and people to help us use the tools to their full measure.

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Filed under budget planning, Middletown Township Committee, Mobilize Middletown, Sean F. Byrnes, tax cap

Middletown Considering Cancellation Of Fall Brush Pick-Ups

According to an article not posted on-line as of yet, but which appears in today’s printed version of the Asbury Park Press, it seem that Middletown is considering eliminating fall brush pick-up.

According to the article, Ted Maloney Middletown’s Director of Public Works, said that all 36 employees of the DPW have been spending their time collecting leaves and brush this year after the horrible winter we had and have not been able to devote much time at all to other duties like paving roads, repairing drain pipes (like the one outside my house, where the road has collapsed) or maintaining various buildings and grounds around town. The elimination of the fall brush pick-up would then allow employees to concentrate on their efforts in those areas once they have finished collecting leaves and brush that remain scattered around the township later this month.
But of course the mayor can’t make this decision alone, he has to figure out how best to get residents reactions first – should it be discussed at a future public meeting or pose it as a question in the Townships newsletter Middletown Matters? Here’s an idea, how about placing another “Suggestion Box” on the townships website if you don’t wish to engage the public directly like so many other issues that effect the town.
Leaf pick-ups this fall, as of right now, will go on as scheduled but the township will be collecting bids shortly from contractors in an attempt to privatize the service (privatizing the leaf and brush pick-ups has been something that Committeeman Sean Byrnes as been advocating for sometime now). But of course, before any contracts are awarded the mayor has to first see if it makes sense to privatize the service or continue to pick-up leaves in-house.
Committeeman Byrnes was mentioned as saying that he believes the savings from privatizing the collections will come from being able to further downsize the township’s labor force, which will save the township the cost of salaries, health and pension benefits.
Mayor Scharfenberger counters that privatizing my not be a good idea unless additional employees can be eliminated, which he seems to doubt, because those individuals do more than just pick-up leaves and brush around town and that would just make the cost of privatizing an additional expense to the tax payers.
That may or may not be so, we’ll have to wait and see what happens. But one thing is for sure, if Scharfenberger or one of the other members of the majority proposed the idea of privatizing the collection of leaf and brush instead of Sean Byrnes, it would have been touted as a great idea and implemented as soon as possible.
I am curious to hear what Scharfenberger has to say about what the recommendations made by the Governor’s Commission on Privatization had to say about privatizing motor vehicle inspections, public parks, tolls and road and whatever else is in their report.
I am sure that it will all be marvelous to him and will show to others what a great governor Christie is turning out to be. Ironic isn’t it?

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Filed under DPW, Gerry Scharfenberger, Gov. Chris Christie, leaf and brush pick-up, privatizing services, Sean F. Byrnes, Ted Maloney