Meeting on Monday night, June 13, the Verona Town Council narrowly approved Verona’s 2011 municipal budget. Deputy Mayor Frank Sapienza voted in favor of the budget, as did Council members Jay Sniatkowski and Bob Manley. Mayor Teena Schwartz, whose term on the Council expires at the end of this month, voted against the budget, as did newly elected Council member Kevin Ryan.
The new budget raises Verona’s tax rate to 2.549 per $100 of assessed value from 2.416 under last year’s budget. The portion of the budget that is inside the state-mandated cap is $270,000 less that the cap would allow. Items outside the cap–health care costs, pensions and debt service–will be increasing 5.6%.
Most of the Council members expressed dissatisfaction with the budget approval process and called on the Town Manager, Joe Martin and Verona’s de facto CFO, Dee Trimmer, to get a proposed budget to the Council in late January or early February at the latest. Mayor Schwartz noted that, the year, the Council did not see a draft until April, that is, more than a quarter of the way into the year that the budget is supposed to be governing. She noted that, although the Town Council had requested that Martin provide options for additional cost cutting, he did not deliver those options until the June 6 meeting and the PowerPoint presentation that Martin gave at the meeting was not given to the Council in advance. She noted that she finally received a copy of it last Thursday.
“The Council hardly had a chance to discuss let alone review the options,” Schwartz said. “I am deeply disappointed.” She called on Martin and Trimmer to present a draft budget for 2012 that assumes no state aid or relief from Governor Chris Christie’s long-promised “tool kit” of pension and legislative reform.
Ryan, who was sworn in as a Council member on May 16, said the Council should come up with a more workable size for the Citizens’ Budget Review Committee, which had 12 members this year. He felt that a group that large made it hard to schedule meetings and have discussions about the departmental budget presentations. “Let the committee talk without the town manager in the room,” he added. Ryan questioned the salary increases in the Buildings & Grounds and Recreation Departments, as well as the surplus. Under Martin, Verona has strived for a surplus of between $1.5 million and $2 million to avoid emergency borrowing that might jeopardize its bond rating. Surplus that is not needed is returned to taxpayers as tax relief. “Maybe the money is just as good staying in the taxpayers’ pocket longer,” Ryan said.
Sapienza noted that the municipal portion of the total budget is just 26 cents of every dollar, with the rest going to school costs and Essex County. Sniatkowski later added that of that 26 cents, half goes to the cost of maintaining Verona’s police force. He also reminded the dozen or so residents present, several of whom spoke in opposition to the budget in the public part of the meeting, that the largest component of Verona’s budget, the school budget, was “overwhelmingly” approved by voters in April. (The $28.4 million Verona school budget for 2011-2012 was approved on April 27 by a vote of 724 to 543.)
What Drives Verona’s Budget
|2010 Budget||2011 budget|
|TOTAL TAX RATE||2.416||2.549|
“Do we start to sacrifice services and quality of life,” Sniatkowski asked rhetorically. “That is a question we might have to ask. I support maintaining our services and infrastructure. I support this budget.”
Manley noted that, prior to last week’s budget meeting, he had not made up his mind which way to vote on the budget. “Every one of us has been affected by what is a global economic crisis,” he said. But he said he was swayed by the opinions voice by Budget Review Committee members at that meeting. “I believe this budget is a commitment to serving a community at the highest level at the lowest cost.”
A 2011 Tax Rate of $2.549/$100 assessed value means that
a home assessed at $400,000 will pay $10,196 annual taxes
In Montclair (2011 Tax Rate of $2.563)
A $400,000 assessed home would pay $10,252 annual taxes
Time to get rid of Joe Martin. What is it going to take. I am extremely dissappointed in the council members that voted yes.. Have you driven around town lately.. take note of all the For Sale signs.
The actual vote on the budget was 3-2, not 5-2.
That’s what I get for typing too fast and not proofreading twice before I publish. Corrected.
Susan, 2.563 is Montclair’s proposed rate. It still hasn’t passed its budget and there is some discussion as to whether that rate needs to head higher. We’ll see what happens.
Thanks for that clarification Virginia. Did you notice that this information is posted on Montclair’s website? When you visit their site (www.montclairnjusa.org) that it is resident-friendly.
Our municipal budget is required to be posted online too. Maybe the Week 48 contest could be Where is it in Verona’s website?
Transparency? I think not.
Montclair’s budget presentation is beautiful. For those of you who have not looked at it, it has detailed breakouts by department, and, in many cases, an indication of options for cuts that could be made. It is also linked to videos on Montclair’s site of the budget presentations and Council meetings, as well as the budgets for 2008-2010.
If you are looking for Verona’s budget information on the town Web site, it is here: http://veronanj.org/documents.php?dir=councilforms&description=Township%20Council%20Documents
If you are looking for the 2011 budget, you won’t find it there. It’s not posted.
Other towns post introduced budgets, as evidenced by Virginia’s post above re: Montclair’s budget presentation and options, but not here.
We shouldn’t have to fight so hard for information and conversation. Thank heavens that we have this site, and other sources of information.
This is truly a disappointment to the many hardworking citizens living in Verona. After the reassement and the increase in property taxes last year you would think that Joe Martin would listen to the people. What is he doing and why are council voting to approve this budget? Property taxes going up every year will soon push many of us out of this town and decrease property values. It is time that he goes and that someone who lives in town actually manage the town. Thank you Kevin Ryan for being the only voice of reason.
Teen Schwartz also voted against the budget.
Kudos and big thanks to Mayor Schwartz and Councilman Ryan. Thank you for being ambassadors to the citizens and not to Town Hall.