With the pledge of allegiance Mayor Hauck brought the special town meeting on the state funding cuts to order promptly at 7 PM. It was well attended with almost all the seats taken.
Here is a brief re- cap of what we learned.
To alleviate the shortfall in this year’s state budget, Governor Corzine has proposed among other things eliminating all state aid to municipalities having fewer than 5000 residents. Flemington is one such municipality and we would lose about $278,000 of aid money under this proposal. Were we to make up this shortfall in our local budget by a tax increase, this would roughly translate into a 4 cent increase in the tax rate, adding an additional $100 of taxes for a house valued at $250,000.
Assemblywoman and Flemington resident, Marcia Karrow, informed us that this proposal to cut our funding was a surprise to both parties and that members of both parties had objections to it. She suggested that Flemington file for extensions and hold off adopting its budget as long as it could while those in Trenton hopefully hammer out a better deal for us. Speaker of the Assembly, Joe Roberts, told the press this week that he too opposed budget cuts based solely on size.
One approach suggested by Boro council to deal with the shortfall in our local budget was to have residents assume the cost of garbage collection, some $20/month. This would save the Boro about the same amount of money lost through the budget cut. There are down sides to this option. We lose the tax benefit of keeping the fee for garbage collection as part of our tax bill and we residents absorb additional expense in the operation of the Boro.
A few residents suggested selling 90 Main in order to allow a commercial venture to locate there and broaden our tax base on Main Street. The Shoppes in Flemington due to open later this year will provide that benefit but they alone will not be adequate to offset the shortfall. Some residents felt that there ought to be cuts made in the Flemington budget which council contends is pretty lean right now due its zero based approach in putting the budget together. Residents wanted the school budgets reduced. Some residents expressed overall frustration with the continued increases in their tax bills in general.
There was no definitive resolution to the problem at this time.
Is there a fiscal crisis in NJ? On the one hand, citing that certain funds were still quite healthy, Ms. Karrow felt that some of the sentiment was contrived by the governor. On the other hand, as I see it, over the last few years the state budget has increased by several billion with no additional sources of revenue to cover these increases. So yes, in my view, we have an imbalance in the state budget to the effect of several billion dollars per year over a period of several years that needs to be reined in.
What to do? Boro council is still working on this problem but perhaps we can help ourselves by expressing our opposition to cutting state funding based on the size of a municipality. To this end, we can contact the Assembly Budget Committee (http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/committees/assembly.asp), and
the Senate Budget Committee (http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/committees/senate.asp ). We can also contact the governor (http://www.state.nj.us/governor/govmail.html ) and Joe Doria, the head of the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) (http://www.state.nj.us/dca/contact/ ). It may help to also copy Assemblywoman Marcia Karrow (ASWkarrow@njleg.org), and Senator Leonard Lance (http://www.senatenj.com/index.php/lance/lance-new-jersey-deserves-an-honest-budget/321).
If there be cuts in state funding to municipalities, let them be across the board cuts. It is an equitable approach and it pressures larger cities that get the lion’s share of aid to become a little bit more fiscally responsible. And large cites cleaning up their finances needs to happen under any circumstance.
Remind our elected officials that we are under 5000, and we vote.
The opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the author.