North Bergen commissioners introduced a $76.2 million town budget for the 2008-2009 fiscal year at their Aug. 6 meeting, up from $75.2 million last year.
Residents will feel a 3 to 4.3 percent increase in their overall taxes this year, officials said. The overall tax amount that residents pay comes from the town, county, and schools. The municipal budget only affects the town portion.
The proposed town budget covers spending from July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009.
Town administrator Chris Pianese explained that increases of fuel, garbage removal fees, and pension and energy costs drove the budget increase, along with cuts in state funding. Towns across the state have had to deal with these issues this year.
Pianese, along with Chief Financial Officer Robert Pittfield, said the increase in the budget remained within inflation, or under the cost of living.
Based on the delay of getting state aid final numbers, the due date for residents to pay their tax bills, instead of August, will be extended until Sept. 29.
The amount of the budget that comes from taxes will be $48.56 million.
“We’ve been doing this for 20 to 25 years and this is the biggest obstacle we’ve faced based on the state level,” said Pianese regarding the cuts in state aid. “All of the dynamics were there for a real struggle and it was and we’re really proud of where we are.”
Mayor and Sen. Nicholas Sacco commended the work of Pianese and Pittfield.
“To hold [the spending increase] to 1.3 percent was monumental and then, trying to make up for the cuts that Trenton gave us was very difficult,” said Sacco. The budget will be voted on at the Sept. 10 commissioners’ meeting at 4 p.m. Members of the public can speak out at the meeting before the final vote. In addition, town commissioners can make recommendations to change or cut the budget before that meeting.
State rebates to homeowners cut
North Bergen lost about $660,000 in state aid for this year, said Pianese.
Pianese said that the Regional Efficiency Aid Program (REAP), which was a tax rebate given by the state for homeowners in North Bergen in response to the regionalization of the fire department, was cut.
Homeowners who once received a $246 credit on their tax bill will get $185, which is a $62 difference, said Pianese.
This amount is included in the expected 4.3 percent tax increase that homeowners may face.
He said that about half of the taxpayers in North Bergen receive the REAP rebate.
Pianese said that the state eliminated Municipal Property Tax Assistance, a Legislative Initiative Municipal Block Grant, along with Municipal Homeland Security Assistance aid, removing $547,567 worth of aid.
“That’s like a double whammy,” said Pianese. “Not only do you lose aid but you have to increase your budget on the other side.”
Pianese said that the town will now pick up the bill and that no services will be affected.
Pianese said that the school budget’s increases were less than 1 percent, and that the state aid the schools are receiving helps keep costs flat.
“We we’re underfunded,” said Pianese. “That’s why we got it.”
While Gov. Jon Corzine believes that the cut in municipal aid will be supplemented by the increase of funds going into education, Sacco didn’t concur.
“If the state had funded the budget as they should have, or the way they did in the past, taxpayers in North Bergen and New Jersey would be a lot happier when the tax bills start going out,” said Sacco.
Tax raise of 3 to 4.3 percent
Homeowners who are losing REAP rebates will feel a 4.3 percent raise in taxes, while other types of property owners (such as residents who own businesses) will see a 3 percent increase.
Pianese said that he worked with Pittfield to ensure that the town budget, when combined with the state and school budgets, was beneath Corzine’s recommended maximum spending increase of 4 percent.
There were some increases this year that the town couldn’t help. According to Pianese, pension costs for city workers were up $250,000, and the cost of processing garbage rose by 15 percent.
Gasoline for town and emergency vehicles increased $115,000. There was an additional $90,000 increase necessary to run the municipal library.
Employee health insurance went up $100,000.
Pianese said they saved money by offering health insurance incentives to town employees who were double-covered in health insurance (due to their spouses’ coverage at a different job) by offering financial compensation for opting out, which saved the town $200,000.
They also included more prescription co-pay plans that increased some medications from $5 to $10.
“All of those different things allowed us to keep our increases with health benefits almost flat,” said Pianese.
Sewer line improvement
Also at the Aug. 6 council meeting, the 60th Street sewer improvement contract, which was initially awarded to Montana Construction Corporation for $198,797, was increased by $44,314.
According to Town Administrator Chris Pianese, the town has been dealing with a broken sewer line for years. The sewage runoff was going down the cliff by the Senior Building on 60th Street down to the Department of Public Works yard.
Pianese said that this part of the sewer line wasn’t as bad as expected, while another portion that they were unaware of needs to be replaced.
Approves commissioners’ cars
The board of commissioners approved two three-year leases for four-door 2008 Limited Ford Taurus vehicles for use by Commissioners Theresa Ferraro and Frank Gargiulo.
Pianese said that the cars are a part of North Bergen’s fleet and are subject to change.
Each car’s monthly payment is $494.95, but the total cost of leasing the cars for two years will be $32,985 due to $15,000 depreciation of the vehicle over three years.
The cars are being leased from Wycoff Ford, Inc. The town received no other bids when they advertised, officials said.
Approves state-mandated pension plan
The commissioners approved the state-mandated pension plan that will make new town employees in certain positions go into a 401K.
Mayor Nicholas Sacco said that this is a part of the reform to save taxpayers money, he isn’t sure how effective it will be.
“[With the] 401K the market changes, [and] their retirement may be very, very problematic,” said Sacco. “People who have problems getting their retirement don’t spend money, and that affects the economy in a very negative way.”
Repaving of NB parking lots
The North Bergen municipal and Health Department parking lots will be repaved in September after Labor Day, said Pianese.
The contract was awarded to the lowest bidder at $47,475 to Joseph Sanzari of Hackensack, N.J.
“What eventually will happen is that these two lots will be secured,” said Pianese. “There’s going to be an arm so that only employees can go in there [during the day].”
At night, residents will be able to park in the lots. There will also be designated visitor spots. – T.T.
Comments on this story can be sent to TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com