Municipal taxes will not increase for a third year in a row in West Orange.
The township council passed a $70.4 million municipal budget on Tuesday with a zero percent tax increase. The final vote came a week after the council decided to cut an originally proposed in the budget.
“This budget is a very lean budget,” said Councilman Jerry Guarino. “You can’t remove anymore from this budget.”
A homeowner with an average single-family house valued at about $339,000 can expect to pay approximately $2,900 in municipal taxes. This budget is $1.8 million less than last year’s budget, and about $2.7 million under the state mandated cap.
There will be no layoffs this year. However, the township will shed 26 full-time positions from its payroll, including not filling four vacant positions in the police department.
The budget passed 4-1, with Councilman Joe Krakoviak casting the dissenting vote.
Krakoviak was very vocal about how the administration got the zero percent tax increase, and the township’s future investment in police and fire departments. He maintained that the savings could be coming at a cost to public safety.
“I am very concerned about the way the administration is proposing to [maintain] the zero percent increase,” said Krakoviak. “... “If you do want a zero tax increase ... you have to make priorities. You have to figure out what are the must-haves and what are the nice-to-haves, and go forward.”
The number of police officers has dropped from its high in 2006, from 122 employees to 92. The trend goes for firemen as well, which dropped from 93 in 2006 to 78 in 2012.
The other council members had differing opinions on the final budget.
“I don’t see that we are jeopardizing safety,” said Councilwoman Susan McCartney. “I respectfully disagree.”
Councilwoman Patricia Spango said the effect of increasing budgets for the police or fire departments would draw funding away from other departments.
“In 2012, we are going to have to make really serious decision as to what services might have to be given up if we fill these positions now,” said Spango.
Mayor Robert Parisi said that, “It is not our plan to gut our police department." Parisi insisted that the overall decrease in township employees is due to rising pension and benefit costs, while contending with falling revenues. The trend, he said, is a reflection of what the township can afford.
These costs will continue to increase next year to an estimated $5 million deficit. The effect, said Parisi, may be the reduction of serives or departments if the costs are not kept under control.
“We have so drastically cut our employee base ... we are, at this point, going to be mixing and matching,” said Parisi, and the township may have to decide what departments it wants to maintain.