A $70,539,314.90 budget was passed by the Teaneck Township Council on August 12 cutting only minimal services but saving senior recreation programs. More than 300 residents overflowed the chambers of the Teaneck Council chambers, most of them senior citizens, to fight for the continuation of the Rodda Community Center fall recreation programs which had been rumored to be cut.
However, Mayor Lizette Parker made a motion which passed unanimously that no action would be taken to cut funds to the recreation programs that evening but no promises were made about any future deliberations on the items. Other programs which remained funded were TCT, (Teaneck Comes Together) a program of recreational activities for teenagers, as well as a $35,000 donation to the Ambulance Corp.
Many members of the community, especially the senior citizens, some of whom receive a meal at the center, were upset when a notice appeared on the doors of the Rodda Center saying that registration for senior programs was suspended. Word that funding was being cut and programs ended spread like wildfire via social media. However, at that time, no cuts had been made and registration was supposed to be delayed until a final decision on cuts was made.
Parker aid the township had been operating on a temporary budget for eight months (with no tax bills going out for 2014) and that 69% or $49 million of the budget had already been spent or encumbered. Township Manager William Broughton was asked to come up with $1.7 million in cuts to bring the budget down to the 2013 level of $69,128,641.09. If it remained at the $70,859,314.90 level it would mean a tax increase per household of about $229.
Broughton said such a large cut had to be made because of the $7,040,074.07 needed for the 5,352 property tax appeals between 2011 and 2013, in part caused by decreasing property values. “This issue does not have anything to do with spending.” The money came from the operating fund balance which had a surplus of $4.2 million. “To balance the 2014 budget we’re using $4.1 million,” which will leave us $139,000. “We usually have $2 million to $2.5 million. You can see that our surplus has fallen off a cliff…to me that’s an alarming number.” A safe number is considered to be 12.6% of the budget ($6.6 to $7.7 million) to maintain an Aa2 bond rating which is needed to keep interest down paid to Teaneck municipal bond purchasers.
In order to avoid huge tax increases for 2014, Broughton said the exact same amount that has been taken from the surplus has to be returned. He gave options:
Receive revenue in excess of what is anticipated
Spend less than budgeted
Have a significant tax increase for 2015.
Council member Jason Castle said the budget had been padded “egregiously.” Referencing the outsourcing of snow removal, he said, “We’ve been having exceptional snow removal without these positions and fund positions we never had.”
He said, “If we can identify a cut, like a park ranger we don’t currently have, and we’re not borrowing $70,000 from surplus to pay for a park ranger, that $70,000 remains in fund balance.”
Castle had a handout he distributed about other cuts where he said the Township over-budgeted such as spending $300,000 on labor council when the manager stated he had achieved more than the labor council in previous negotiations. Saying that the Township has been paying less than budgeted he said it was unfair to the taxpayer because “they are paying taxes on the budget number, not on what we’re actually spending.”
He pointed out that last year after all bills were paid there was still a balance in the Police fund of $377,000. “We didn’t spend that money.”
Castle said he didn’t think anything was done maliciously but he said that it could be done better. “If we don’t need to borrow $3 million from the surplus and we left that $3 million in the surplus that purple line (referencing a graph) would never dip down to $139,000 and the taxpayers would not have to pay an increase on money we do not intend to spend.”
Council member Mohammed Hameeduddin said of Castle that this suggestion was what happened in the Bush era, taking money from the surplus to put it back. But it never came back. “What we’re doing is being prudent in collecting money from our Township.”
Council member Henry J. Pruitt said he was looking at ways to increase revenue such as shared services and selling town property.
Prior to the meeting some of the Council members told JLBC that instead of cuts, they’d like take actions to increase revenues. This could involve easing some zoning restrictions to allow more commercial development and bringing in more rateables. However this option had been opposed by taxpayers, who fear a change in the nature of the community from mostly residential to commercial.
Except for a cut of $70,000 for a park ranger position not presently filled and $250,000 to the Bergen County Utility Authority, none of Broughton’s other suggested cuts were enacted.
By State law, a certified budget is supposed to be filed with the State by July 1 with preliminary budgets ready for review as early as March and deliberations concluded in April. However, because of a deadlock, the board decided to postpone further deliberations until after the Council election in May. Two new members came on board, Jason Castle and Alan Sohn, both of whom ran on platforms of cutting expenses.
Those who voted for the budget as amended were Councilmembers: Mohammed Hameeduddin, Mark Schwartz, Henry Pruitt and Mayor Lizette Parker.
By Anne Phyllis Pinzow