In difficult financial times, the Byram Township Council held its proposed 2021 budget increase to 0.89 percent.
During their Jan. 19 meeting, council members continued to express frustration over mismanagement by the New Jersey state government.
Deputy Mayor Raymond Bonker said he had wanted a slight decrease in taxes again in the budget as had been last year. However, he said, the state has “put a collective gun to our head and said, ‘Pay more money.’” He said the state cut the Garden State Preservation Trust by $22,745 and unilaterally cut three different pension funds by $85,000.
Those two items together, Bonker said, are more than $100,000 outside of the township’s control. He said it is “outrageous” that the state can raise pensions by 15 percent and expect small towns like Byram to absorb that increase within the two percent cap.
“It’s a fleecing and a gauging by the state of Mr. and Mrs. Byram Township,” he said. “Without that extra $100K, the current draft budget would have been a 0.25 percent decrease.”
Mayor Alexander Rubenstein agreed they been “shafted” by the state with regard to pensions and decreased state aid. However, he said, considering everything against them, services in Byram Township increased, and a part-time recreation employee was added in the proposed budget.
The draft 2021 municipal budget may be found on the township website (byramtwp.org).
The township manager, Joseph Sabatini, said that, instead of pointing to prior years’ allocations as a starting point, each department head began its sub-account at zero and provided detailed justification for each request for 2021.
Sabatini also said he hoped to introduce the budget in March and have it adopted in April.
Other budget items
● Sports equality: After council discussion, the council agreed each sport will set up the initial field line painting for their sport, and the township will maintain line painting during the sports seasons.
● Tax collection rate: Chief finance officer Ashleigh Frueholz said the collection rate for 2020 was 98.5 percent; and 97.98 percent in 2019.
● Reduction in anticipated revenues: Sabatini said, as a result of Covid, there was a $107,000 reduction in interest income and a $10,000 reduction in court revenues.
● Fund balance reduction: Sabatini said they were recommending a reduction of $100,000 in the fund balance, which is currently around $1.5 million, because revenue has decreased. In addition, he said, Covid will affect canceling unexpended balances to offset shortfalls in revenues during the year. He said Byram will continue to experience shortfalls unless the capital improvement fund gets more funding.
● Largest expenses: Sabatini said the largest expense is the $85,000 increase in police, fire, and public employee retirement plans.
● Road re-surfacing program: Sabatini said the proposed budget does not increase dedicated funding for the annual road re-surfacing program, which should be around $900,000, adjusted annually for a 13-year payment schedule.
● Construction code official: Bonker said Byram should be able to use its full-time construction code official for shared services, a departure from last year. Councilman Harvey Roseff said he looked forward to more revenue and shared services contracts in the construction department.
● New municipal building: Councilwoman Cris Franco asked if the new municipal building would be paid through a bond. Sabatini said before they go to public bid, they would need a bond ordinance and to talk to bond council. Roseff urged caution because the municipal building might lead to a substantial tax increase in subsequent years, even possibly a 5 percent increase in tax within the next year or two.