Vernon budget talks begin

Vernon. Vernon Township Council, mayor disagree on certain employee salaries in the yet-to-be introduced 2020 township budget. Councilwoman said the budget calls for a $72 increase on a home worth about $200,000 and called it an 'assault on the taxpayer'.

| 28 Feb 2020 | 02:22

Discussions began in earnest on Monday, Feb. 24, when the Township Council began discussing the township’s approximately $27 million spending plan.

Councilwoman Jean Murphy said the budget as it stood on Feb. 24 called for a $72 increase on the average Vernon Township home assessed at about $200,000.

"This is an assault on the taxpayer," she said.

Murphy said the budget also uses $500,000 in fund balance, the lowest amount used in years.

“That’s just the municipal side,” she said. “I am hearing the Board of Education might be double that. We’re talking about hundreds of dollars in increases. That’s not taking into considerations what the reval will do.”

The council has introduced its salary ordinance for non-union employees for the third time on Feb. 24.

She recommended that non-union positions not get more than 2 percent raises.

“Going beyond that is really not wise,” Murphy said.

She also questioned the need for the township to pay for education and certifications for a second chief financial officer, second tax collector, second assessor and second municipal clerk.

“That might be great in a great economy, but I’m not looking to pay for somebody else’s education to boost their resume,” Murphy said. “Those positions are filled.”

Business administrator Chuck Voelker said best practices dictate having a backup in case something happens to the department head.

“These positions that we’re doing it for require a certain amount of certification and expertise,” Voelker said.

Councilwoman Kelly Weller asked if there was a requirement that they remain with the township a set amount of time to get certification education paid for.

Council President and former Mayor Harry Shortway said during his term, he made employees sign an agreement that they’d stay or pay the township back.

“We have a responsibility to our employees,” Councilman John Auberger said. “It’s not the same as a wage freeze. We’re looking to give a 2 percent raise. But we also have a responsibility to the taxpayers because we don’t know what the Board of Ed is going to do.”

Mayor Howard Burrell defended some of the salaries saying they only account for 0.6 percent of the budget and taking them away will not affect the tax levy, but would hurt the township’s ability to hire the best people.

“I’m prepared to hold these people accountable,” Burrell said. “I am prepared to hold their feet to the fire. But I need good employees to do that.”

He said he based his decisions on the average salary from the same position throughout the state, but several salaries he mentioned remained below state average.