There’s been a change of heart at Town Hall about televising the budget workshops that begin on Monday: They will be recorded for VTV.
Town Council members Jay Sniatkowski and Bob Manley have both let MyVeronaNJ.com know about the decision. Town Manager Joe Martin had previously ruled against putting the meetings on Verona’s public access television channel, saying that, “It stifles discussion and invites grandstanding.”
The first of the budget workshops–on the police, recreation and community services budgets–will be held on Monday, February 25, at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers. Martin gave a overview of the entire budget this past Monday that seemed to indicate that both the budget, and our individual taxes, will be going up. In 2012, tax rate rose to 7.20 from 6.94 in 2011.
Martin reminded the audience that the 2012 levy of $14.8 million was the same as the 2011 levy, and that Verona ran a surplus, as it usually does. He said that all but $150,000 of the $2.5 million surplus will be rolled over into the new budget.
But Hurricane Sandy left us with $350,000 in emergency spending that has to go against the new budget. (Hurricane Sandy was more costly to the town than the Halloween 2011 snowstorm because Verona had to dispatch police to maintain order at gas stations.) Martin said that, without that, the budget would again have been close to flat. With it, however, “it’s up a little over 2%,” Martin said. While the town manager said that he was confident that Verona would recover most of the $350,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency “at some point”, he acknowledged that the amount of spending that state government must earmark for Sandy recovery makes state aid to towns like Verona a wildcard.
The budget total is, however, only part of the story. Martin said that Verona again lost ratables last year, which means that the cost of the budget will be booked against lower income from property taxes. “Even if we hold flat on expenditures, it doesn’t mean that the tax impact will be flat,” noted Councilman Kevin Ryan, who with Councilman Michael Nochimson led the drive to open the workshop meetings to the television cameras. Verona had a full revaluation in 2010 after a 27-year gap, and has been conducting rolling reassessments across town since then that have resulted in further adjustments as house prices stagnated.
The police department budget, which will be discussed on Monday, is one of the largest components of Verona’s overall spending. The department, which is in the final year of its current contract, has shrunk to 27 officers from 33 just a few years back and it has made the dispatcher position a civilian job instead of a uniformed officer. Verona has considered consolidating overnight dispatch work with Cedar Grove but has made no concrete steps in that direction. In January, Lawrence Township became the first town in the state to turn its dispatching over to a private company, a move that will save the south Jersey town $1 million over five years.
If you cannot make the budget workshops, they will be televised by VTV on FIOS channel 24 and Comcast channel 35. The town publishes the broadcast schedule on its Web site.