Making the grade?

Council introduces ordinance designed to boost state aid

An $87,143 aid payment due to Secaucus from the state of New Jersey currently hinges on a five-page questionnaire the town submitted to Trenton on Oct. 1.
The money, due to the town on Dec. 1, represents the final installment of Secaucus’ total state aid payment of $1.8 million.
To get this last installment, Secaucus – and the state’s other 565 cities and towns – last week had to submit its responses to Gov. Christopher Christie’s “Best Practices” questionnaire, a survey of municipalities on their management efficiencies and ability to conserve taxpayer dollars. Only municipalities that meet minimum standards set by the governor’s administration will receive their full state aid payments for this fiscal year.
Cities and towns throughout the state received word in August they’d have to either make the grade or lose their funding when they received the “Best Practices” questionnaire from the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). The questionnaire included 77 “yes-no” questions that try to measure the quality of administrative management, fiscal management, public safety, public works, energy management, municipal-school relations, and public health within each city and town in the state. DCA will also accept “not applicable,” or NA, as a response to questions that don’t pertain to some municipalities.
Eighty-eight is the highest possible score a municipality can achieve.


“Each municipality will need to meet an established percentage of the checklist items in order for all or part of your last state aid payment to be released.” – Lori Grifa

“More than ever before, every level of government – state, county, and local – needs to work together to provide necessary services to…residents while controlling taxes,” wrote DCA Commissioner Lori Grifa in a letter to mayors that accompanied the questionnaire. “Each municipality will need to meet an established percentage of the checklist items in order for all or part of your last state aid payment to be released.”
Grading will be based on the number of “yes” responses given. Cities that give 76 to 88 “yes” answers will get 100 percent of their state aid. But for municipalities that don’t make the grade, the impact is clear.
A score between 31 and 45 means the municipality will receive 97 percent of their final state aid payment. Municipalities that offer 15 or fewer affirmative answers will receive 95 percent of their final payment.
Secaucus Town Administrator David Drumeler said he expects Secaucus to receive a score of 76. The town answered five questions with an NA.
The questionnaires had to be certified by municipal chief financial officers and were due back to DCA last Friday.

The questions

The form asked a variety of questions concerning shared services, long-range planning, bidding practices for professional services, recycling efforts, the annual budget process, and employee training and management, among many other topics.
A few of the specific questions included:

• In the last year, did you participate in any type of strategic planning process designed to help you restructure to reduce costs?
• Does your municipality limit health benefits to full-time employees (35 or more hours weekly), excluding from coverage all part-time employees, elected or appointed officials?
• Does your municipality maintain a minimum work year of 2,080 hours for all full-time employees?
• Does your municipality utilize some or all contract awards through the “Fair and Open” [process], versus the “Nonfair and Open” process?
• Do you participate in the purchase of fuel, electric, or gas in bulk through cooperative purchasing (county/state) and/or [are you] a member of a sustainable energy meeting, or any other similar group purchasing program?

High scoring Secaucus?

In an effort to boost Secaucus’ score on the Christie questionnaire, the Town Council on Tuesday introduced an ordinance that sets minimum attendance standards for municipal boards, commissions, and agencies.
One question asked is: “Has your municipality established an ‘Absence from Meetings Policy’ for elected officials/appointed board members?”
The ordinance is one of several steps the town has taken in recent weeks to see that Secaucus gets its full state aid payment.
According to the ordinance, “any member of any board, agency, commission, authority, or entity who misses three consecutive meetings or five meetings within any 12-month period shall be removed from office upon notice and hearing before the council, or in accordance with the procedures contained in the legislation establishing such a board, agency, commission, or authority.”
The ordinance won’t come up for a public hearing and vote until Oct. 26 – weeks after the questionnaire has been submitted to the state
“I believe that since we had it introduced before Oct. 1, and our intent is clear, I think we should be okay,” Drumeler said.
In another step taken in recent weeks, the town has begun posting the minutes to its biweekly council meetings to its municipal web site. The municipal governing body also scheduled a joint public meeting with the Secaucus Board of Education, and strengthened the role of the town safety officer.
These measures were all taken to improve the town’s overall score on the survey.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at

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