Council Urged to Act Now on Next Year's $900,000 Shortfall [Poll]
Borough manager Tom Metzler urged council to act now to make up a $900,000 shortfall in next year's budget or risk disastrous results in the future
The borough of Fair Lawn is at a financial tipping point, borough manager Tom Metzler said glumly at Tuesday's budget meeting.
Even considering all of the additional revenue the borough expects to bring in with ambulance billing, water billing, municipal court revenue and FEMA money to reimburse storm damages, Fair Lawn faces a $900,000 shortfall for next year's budget.
"There’s only three ways to offset that number without it having a tremendous impact," Metzler said. "None of the options are good ones."
Metzler said council needed to give him guidance on which approach he should take moving forward: increase revenue via more fees (taxation), cut services or deplete the surplus.
He did not recommend balancing the budget by utilizing more of the surplus, as past councils have done.
"If you take another million dollars or $900,000 from surplus next year, you will certainly be within striking range of every community that you’ve read about in the Bergen Record over the last three weeks that are all going out for referendums with crazy tax increases," he said. "Why? Because they’ve depleted their surpluses."
As manager, Metzler has long been an advocate of maintaining a strong surplus, which he believes makes for a strong community. During his previous tenure, Fair Lawn's surplus peaked at $10 million -- twice what it has been under any other manager in the past dozen years.
"You can disagree with me on what the strength of the surplus should be or not be," he said. "But I think there’s enough of a track record over the last couple of weeks with what’s happening with other towns that you all should know what’s going to happen if you deplete your surplus. That’s your only saving grace."
Metzler asked councilmembers to make the tough decision this year, in order to avoid financial catastrophe next year and give the town time to plan ahead for the necessary changes.
"It’s got to be addressed this year or it’s going to have a serious impact on our residents next year," he said. "If you plan on doing it through cuts, I’m urging you to give administration some guidance on what it is you’re looking to cut, so we can at least do a realistic study and tell you how it’s going to impact."
Chief financial officer Karen Palermo echoed Metzler's point.
"We have to address it this year," she said. "We need to know where we’re going because we don’t have the surplus. It’s just going down and down and down."
Metzler said the shortfall is too great to made up with furloughs alone, and that layoffs are guaranteed to bring reductions in service given the borough's already bare bones workforce staffing.
Taking into consideration the recent, and at times contentious, party-line voting that has played out on proposed fee increases for water meter service charges and home alarms, Metzler asked council members to band together when tackling the shortfall and approach it as a collective unit.
"If the public is going to buy into the urgency, you’ve got to do it united," he said. "You can’t do it divided."
Council doesn't have long before a decision is needed. Its budget wrap-up is scheduled for April 16 at 5 p.m. and the budget will be introduced on April 24.
"What you as a council decide on with this budget, I’m telling you, it’s going to determine what the future of this town is. It’s in your hands," Metzler said. "You can kick the can one more year, but next year is it. It’s either increase revenue, deplete your surplus or cut services, that’s it. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of to what degree."