Sussex Borough Council says budget is not final

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:19

    Borough aims high for discretionary aid in budget prep; 30 percent hike won’t stand, they say By Tom Hoffman SUSSEX n At a first glance, a 30 percent tax hike would come as a shock to anyone. But Bruce LaBar, president of the Sussex Borough Council, said he wants to reassure taxpayers that the council’s decision on March 31 to approve a tentative 2009 municipal budget with such a whopping tax increase is merely a temporary placeholder until it can determine how much, if any discretionary aid, the borough will receive from the state. “There’s no way we’ll pass a final budget with a 30 percent (tax) increase,” said LaBar, speaking by phone a few days after the council voted 5-to-1 to approve the interim $1.3 million budget. He said the borough was forced under state law to vote on a municipal budget by March 31. But LaBar added that the council plans to identify budget cuts that can be made between now and July 1. State officials won’t identify the amount of discretionary aid the borough may or may not receive until after July 1, so it’s all a bit of a guessing game at the moment, said LaBar. He helped craft the budget as head of the council’s finance committee. “If we don’t get any aid, then the red pen comes out,” he said. Councilperson Katherine Little, who said she “reluctantly” voted to approve the budget, agrees. “The budget, to me, is way too much but we’ll wait to see if we get discretionary funding. If we don’t, we’ll have to take an axe to it,” Little said. The one councilman who voted against the interim budget, Jonathan Rose, said he disagrees with a budget-first, cut-later strategy. “My fear is that the council has done nothing to try to minimize the spending side of the budget,” said Rose. For instance, under the interim budget, the council approved a large expenditure for a dam study, a repaving project for Newton Avenue and 2 percent salary increases for municipal employees. Plus, the borough has to make an $18,000 bond payment for a fire truck after deferring the payments last year under a one-time option. Rose believes that all municipal salaries should be frozen this year given the current economy and that the town “should not even be discussing resurfacing Newton Avenue.” But LaBar, who lives on Newton Avenue, points out how the borough obtained a $150,000 state grant in late 2007 to help pay for the repaving project. He said he feels it’s altogether possible that the grant money will cover all of the repaving costs. The town is in the process of reviewing proposals for the roadwork and must award a bid by July 31 in order to utilize the grant money, said LaBar. In addition, the borough is in the process of applying for the state’s “Safe Routes to School” grant to pay for new curbs and sidewalks along the northwest section of Newton Avenue. Many of the 500 or so students who attend Sussex Middle School and live in the borough walk along that road, LaBar added. Still, Rose believes it will be more difficult for the council to make steep cuts this summer if the state fails to come up with discretionary aid for the borough. “The cuts that occur in July could be deep and painful as opposed to making moderate cuts now,” he said. Meanwhile, LaBar said he wants to assure Sussex Borough taxpayers that the current budget isn’t set in stone by any means. “The main thing right now is that they (residents) shouldn’t panic,” said LaBar, who said that Borough Hall was inundated with calls from irate taxpayers last week after reading published reports of a massive tax hike. “Our final budget with be combed through with a fine-tooth comb.” Reaction and response Council president Bruce LaBar said he wants to assure Sussex Borough taxpayers that the current budget is only an interim plan. “The main thing right now is that they (residents) shouldn’t panic.” He said that Borough Hall has been inundated with calls from irate taxpayers who’d read about a massive tax hike. “Our final budget will be combed through with a fine-tooth comb.”