The ink on Verona’s 2010 budget is barely dry, but Township Manager Joe Martin and Dorothy Trimmer, Verona’s de facto CFO, have begun work on our expenses and revenue for 2011. There’s some good news on the budget locally and some bad news–potentially a lot of bad news–for Verona’s budget coming out of Trenton.
First a quick primer on the process. Every July, Martin and Trimmer start work on the next year’s budget. That includes looking at not only what expenses Verona might face in the coming year, but also the fiscal landmines that lay beyond that and need to be funded now. They refine their plans throughout the fall and, on January 1, they present to the Town Council a temporary budget equal to one quarter of the previous year’s budget. This is necessary because the state, which determines so much of Verona’s expenses every year, runs its budget on a fiscal year that starts in July. (The federal budget calendar also doesn’t square with Verona’s: It begins October 1. The county budget must be introduced by January 15.) Meeting on the first and third Mondays of every month, the Town Council reviews and revises Verona’s budget in meetings that are open to all.
So what’s the good news? First, healthcare. Insurance premiums for municipal employees will rise only 12% in the coming year, down from 18% this year. Then retirements. While the departure of Verona Police Captain Fred Distefano has already been announced, Martin says that two more town employees will also be retiring. The net effect on next year’s budget will be a savings of $200,000 because Verona intends to promote one of its three lieutenants to captain. (Verona code provides for the town having up to three captains, which the Town Council has not allowed for several years.) And the Hilltop development, which was structured as a payment in lieu of taxes, will begin paying in full. This year, Verona realized only $300,000 from the Hilltop.
The bad news could blow this all to smithereens. The State Office of Legislative Services (the state equivalent of the federal GAO) revealed yesterday that New Jersey faces a $10.5 billion budget deficit next year. That’s just about the same size as the gap we had to close this year, which cost Verona $300,000 in state aid and left us with a $900,000 bill for pension costs. (The state has deferred funding its own pension costs until 2014.) Writing for MyVeronaNJ’s state news partner, NewJerseyNewsroom.com, Bob Holt reports that the OLS is predicting a spending increase of $11.5 billion, but only $1 billion more in revenue. You can read Holt’s full report on the state’s budget mess here.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that state law governs how many police captains Verona has. In fact, it is Section 38-4 of the Township Code.