Council Adopts $46.4M Budget
Council adopted a $46.4 million budget Tuesday that calls for a 4-percent tax increase on the average assessed home and includes no employee furloughs or layoffs.
Council adopted a $46.4 million municipal budget Tuesday that includes a tax increase of 4 percent, or $110.63, on the average assessed home.
The budget, which maintains borough services and avoids furloughs and layoffs for borough employees, passed in a 3-2 party-line vote.
Republican council members who supported the budget lamented the tax increase, but said it was necessary to rebuild the surplus that was depleted last year when council drew from reserves to hold taxes flat – a move Mayor Jeanne Baratta called “election year nonsense.”
"People are going to wonder,'Well, why are my taxes going up this year if this budget is actually less spending than it was [last year]?" said Baratta, presumably referring to the budget that was initially introduced in May and showed an $84,000 reduction in spending. The adopted 2012 budget allocates $138,826 more than last year, but also anticipates $778,825 in additional revenue -- a net gain.
"Last year’s budget -- election year nonsense. It relied on one-time gimmicks to avoid raising taxes," Baratta continued. "So this year what we’re doing is, we're taking the responsible actions to balance this budget without impacting the services that this borough offers and the services that all of you have come to expect."
Council offset last year’s budget with nearly $5 million of surplus and capital surplus funds, close to $2 million more than was used in this year’s budget.
Manager Tom Metzler said in May that total reserves would be down to just over $2 million at the close of this fiscal year, but that the generation of new revenues should replenish the declining surplus, or at least stabilize it going forward.
"We cannot deplete our finances any longer," Baratta said. "We don’t want to raise taxes but we all want our garbage picked up, we all want our roads paved, we want our streets plowed when it snows. What this council is doing is we're taking responsible actions to be sure that we can continue to provide those services for you."
Councilwoman Lisa Swain reiterated her opposition to the budget, saying that compared to the budgets that past Democratic councils have delivered, she believed this year's tax increase was too high to support.
"For two of the past three years the Democrats were in control, you had a zero percent increase," Swain said. "This year, it’s a 4-percent increase. You add the water increase to that and, I just think it’s too much for the Fair Lawn residents."
Deputy Mayor Ed Trawinski took exception to Swain's remarks about past Democratic budgets.
"This budget pays for the zero increase of last year," Trawinski said. "It pays for it in the sense that excess surplus was used. That surplus is gone, it can’t be used, it has to be made up. And that’s what’s going on here. Any politician that promises you that they can deliver a budget at zero is misleading you, the public."
Trawinski said that delivering a zero tax increase in Fair Lawn without cutting services or resorting to "gimmicks" is not possible due to high labor costs and the depleted surplus.
"Until the people of New Jersey understand that when people who sit up here use words like 'You have to make sacrifices,' what we’re talking about is , the services that some of you want have to be cut," he said. "People don’t believe it yet and don’t understand that municipal government cannot keep doing business the way it has done it. Simply cannot."
Fair Lawn was able to increase taxes above the governor's 2-percent cap this year because, under the law, a municipality that raises taxes less than 2 percent in one year can bank the difference and use it to exceed the cap in subsequent years.
A comparison of the past two budgets:
|Total Appropriations (Expenditures)||$46,390,326||$46,251,500||$138,826|
|Surplus and Capital Surplus Used||$3,000,000||$4,947,297||($1,947,297)|
|Total Property Taxes||$34,111,374.01||$33,060,662||$1,050,712.01|
|Average Assessed Home||$323,679||$411,663||($87,984)*|
|Estimated Municipal Tax on Average Home||$2,797.86||$2,687.23||$110.63|
*Change in assessed home value from 2011 to 2012 is due to a property re-assessment that was carried out in 2012