Surprise Request for Cuts Prolongs Municipal Budget Debate
Councilman Kurt Peluso proposed making substantial cuts to this year's budget in an attempt to lessen the burden on taxpayers.
An unexpected request by councilman Kurt Peluso to trim the budget as much as $1.5 million left borough council unable to reach a consensus Monday at what was supposed to the budget wrap-up session.
“If a $1.5 million [reduction] is too high, maybe we can do half-a-million,” said Peluso, who explained he’d like to see the proposed $128.10 annual municipal tax increase per average household cut in half. “Any little cut we can make to the taxpayers I’m sure would be appreciated.”
Peluso and councilwoman Lisa Swain voted not to proceed with the manager’s budget, opting to review the savings that could be realized by furloughs and/or layoffs to borough employees.
Deputy Mayor Ed Trawinski, who abstained from voting on the budget, asked that borough manager Tom Metzler return to council with recommendations on where to cut spending.
“Realistically, the only way we’re going to be able to take down the salary and wage line this year is to eliminate services,” Trawinski said. “We ought to ask the manager…what his recommendation would be in terms of priorities that he thinks the council should consider eliminating.”
Metzler said he’d recommend where to cut if provided with a target amount to cut, but advised that it would in all likelihood result in a permanent reduction in services.
“I just don’t think you’re going to get there by nickeling and diming,” he said. “I just don’t see us getting there without just biting the bullet and doing it, laying people off if that’s what’s necessary.”
Other than Peluso asking chief financial officer Karen Palermo to review the potential savings from furloughs and layoffs, none of the council members proposed a plan for what they would consider cutting.
During the first budget meeting in early April, Metzler asked that council try to overcome its recent history of party-line voting and approach the budget process as a collective unit.
"If the public is going to buy into the urgency, you’ve got to do it united," he said at the time. "You can’t do it divided."
While Peluso's suggestion to make a sizeable budget cut conforms with Metzler's earlier request that council act now to make up next year's proposed $900,000 shortfall, the last minute nature of it rubbed some council members the wrong way.
"I wish you had asked sooner," said Mayor Jeanne Baratta, who along with Deputy Mayor John Cosgrove voted for the presented manager's budget Monday. "We’re kind of at crunch time right now."
"We came here tonight to get this done," Cosgrove said. "I'm prepared to vote on it now."
Fair Lawn Republican Club president Daniel Dunay expressed concerns over Peluso and Swain's objections to the presented budget in a statement.
"It's too bad that we again have an instance of two members of the council creating a political divide without any clear perspective on what they would do differently," he said. "Through all of the many budget sessions with borough management, not once did Councilman Peluso ask about furloughs or other budget cuts. Now, at the eleventh hour, with all budget sessions done, he and Councilwoman Swain have objected."
Peluso and Swain requested that two versions of the budget be presented at next Tuesday's council meeting when it's formally introduced -- one with cuts/furloughs and one without.