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Council Fails to Reach Unanimous Agreement on Budget

The budget will be introduced at a public meeting on May 8.

Council’s meeting to finalize the budget began auspiciously enough Tuesday night when during opening council comments Kurt Peluso thanked the borough manager for crafting a layoff plan to address his earlier request that the proposed residential tax increase be cut in half.  

By the time the council’s post-meeting budget wrap had concluded, however, residents were asking feuding council members to tone down the yelling and “play nice,” in what ended up being arguably the most contentious partisan council confrontation yet.

The work session’s discussion centered on squaring borough manager Tom Metzler’s large-scale layoff plan that he and chief financial officer Karen Palermo designed at Peluso’s behest. 

To meet Peluso’s desire to cut in half the proposed tax increase on the average residential dwelling, Palermo determined that council would be forced to make an approximately $800,000 cut from the budget – which equated to laying off 10 full-time and 10 part-time employees.

Accounting for the fact that any layoffs approved as part of the budget wouldn’t go into effect until July 1 at the earliest, Metzler estimated that to reach the $800,000 figure this year would require laying off about twice as many employees as his plan recommended.

Slashing some 40 employees from the borough’s already bare bones workforce did not appeal to any of the councilmembers, including Peluso, who suggested a more piecemeal approach.

“I think if we look at a few positions here and there we can still save the taxpayers a significant amount of money,” said Peluso, who recommended not filling a couple vacant positions included in the original budget. “I don’t see why we should be adding positions when right now the borough hall is working without it.”

Peluso achieved a consensus from council to both forego hiring a construction official and at least consider outsourcing a payroll clerk. 

Metzler defended maintaining an in-house payroll clerk and asked council to leave money in the budget for the position, but nonetheless agreed to return to council in a month with quotes on outsourcing the job.

At Deputy Mayor Ed Trawinski’s request, council agreed to re-write the salary ordinance for the payroll clerk position, which had an advertised salary range of $50,000 to $75,000.

“If the amount stays in the budget, I’d like to do a salary ordinance reducing it to somewhere in the order of magnitude of $30-to-$35,000,” Trawinski said. “The [salary] tiers that we’ve had for a decade and two decades don’t work in this economy.”

Councilwoman Lisa Swain took Trawinski’s salary reduction suggestion a step further, asking and receiving consensus from council that all future hires start at lower salaries.

The meeting’s productive and bipartisan course came to a crashing halt when Peluso attempted to persuade his Republican counterparts to cut the position of recreation supervisor – a position, unlike the others discussed, that is currently filled. 

Peluso asserted that compared to neighboring municipalities, Fair Lawn’s recreation department was top heavy and could stand to cut the recreation supervisor -- one of the department’s four managerial positions -- based on his review of the job’s salary and responsibilities.

“Professionally, I work for a YMCA, “ Peluso said, “and looking at some of these responsibilities to the responsibilities that we have for our staff members, it’s mind-boggling.  If I was to discuss this with our YMCA employees they would be very, very shocked.”

Metzler declined to support Peluso's proposed cut, saying he preferred to first confer with recreation superintendent Jim Graff to learn what effects cutting the position might have on the department.

“I’m reluctant to do it just pulling a position out,” Metzler said. “I do believe that there’s an opportunity to streamline some of these programs, but again in doing so, I think it’s going to result in elimination of some programs that we offer, and I think you should know that beforehand, not afterwards.”

Trawinski agreed with the manager, and said going through position cuts one-by-one without any context was a mistake.

“I am prepared to make difficult decisions to do further cuts,” he said. “But I don’t do them this way…I’m concerned about the effect on the people who use the recreation program. At this moment in time, I have no idea whether that effect would be positive or negative.” 

Rebuffed by all three Republicans on cutting the recreation supervisor position, Peluso declined to continue suggesting some of the other layoffs he had in mind.

“That one I thought that was the biggest homerun out of them all,” he said of his suggestion to eliminate the recreation supervisor.

A few minutes later, when consensus was sought on the budget as a whole, both Peluso and Swain opposed it.

After Peluso’s vote, Mayor Jeanne Baratta -- who had hoped to achieve unanimous support for the budget -- asked Peluso what needed to be done for him to vote in favor of the budget.

His response set of a firestorm.

“If there’s an unwillingness for our council members to cut this [recreation supervisor] position,” Peluso responded. “I don’t think there would be a willingness to help the taxpayers any more.”

The comment set off Trawinski and the partisan floodgates opened.

“That’s not fair,” Trawinski exploded. “You know damn well, councilman, that every one of us is willing to help the taxpayers. Every single one of us…That is poppycock, pure poppycock to frame it that way.”

Trawinski went on to predict that two years from now Fair Lawn Democrats would hit Fair Lawn Republicans with a campaign piece excoriating them for not wanting to help the taxpayers. 

Peluso responded that his vote was not politically motivated and asked why Republican assertions that his motives were political continued to surface.

“I disagree with this budget and that’s it, that’s my vote,” he said. “But you keep prying me and asking my reasons, I give my reasons and you find they’re not acceptable. I’m sorry I just don’t agree with this budget.”

Baratta then jumped into the fray, telling Peluso she didn’t respect his opinion because he had come to the previous budget wrap up, in her opinion, determined to vote ‘no’ on the budget, no matter what.

“We’re trying to work together,” she said. “But you just wanted to vote ‘no.’”

Unable to reach a unanimous consensus, council elected to move forward with the budget -- amending it to include all changes made during the wrap-up. 

It passed by a 3-to-2 party-line vote and will be introduced to the public at the May 8 council meeting.

--

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Brent Pohlman April 26, 2012 at 08:25 PM
BB, thank you for the kind words. I'm curious though, after I provided you with that little point of information regarding how Mayor Baratta never took the stipend and medical insurance are you going to withdraw your above allegation.
new slogan April 26, 2012 at 08:54 PM
@ brent "Not everyone on this site is constantly talking about your party members." im not a democrat, if anything i lean towards conservative views but wont call myself a republican. youre right i am defensive today, and its because im am furious with this town taxes and over spending. i thought peluso's idea was the best ive heard so far- at this point in time do we really need so many people employed at the rec center? i go to the rec center and there is never enough people using it to justify having that many employees. when i scan my card and see 3 employees kicking back watching youtube clips i have to admit it really bothers me that my tax money is gonig towards thier salaries. ive lived here all my life, i know the politics, i know the cliques. take a look at the public sector jobs in fair lawn. you realize how some of our cops have the same last name, same with our school systems, same with the rec center. it is clearly not what you know but who you know in fair lawn. im assuming john cosgrove has a personal friendship with the recreation supervisor and thats probably why they wont consider cutting this job, even if its not neccassary.
Jacob Ruitemann April 26, 2012 at 10:15 PM
To all poster's, the damage made by the recent past council's and future decisions by this council are taking its toll upon all resident's and employees. Failing to maintain a solid workforce thru these cuts is not fixing a thing, if anything, it has weakened our town, as what was done to the Police department is the fine example of poor management decisions, cutting manpower while crime is increasing everywhere. The fact that council's of years past recklessly spent monies on special projects and we still continue to pay today on these bonded projects takes funding away from necessary salaried expenditures, and to further exacerbate the problem is a 86 million dollar Board of Education budget. So go ahead Mr. Peluso, cut more necessary jobs, furlough more boro employees, it's your ball wrecking construction equiptment for you to operate in your hands to destroy what's left of what we knew was Fair Lawn NJ!
Tommy P April 26, 2012 at 10:26 PM
What is it with Fair Lawn Republican Club members and religious groups? How many people actually show up to those meeting you hold?
Tommy P April 26, 2012 at 10:47 PM
The problem in this town is not unique, we have allowed our political leaders to fool the masses into thinking "free lunches" are real. They talk about opening the pool, but not the cost, about the free Senior Center which out of towners use, a skate park, fire works, the list goes on. The politicians bribe us with these programs and cleverly hide the reality, they are bribing us with our own money. The answers are obvious, they may not be politically popular, but the alternative in the long run is only compounding the problem. The town has a spending problem, the largest problem is the BOE, but the council isn't exempt. We need leaders that are willing to get their hands dirty and remind people the Republic of Fair Lawn can't print (inflate) money, it collects it. We are municipality. Many of our seniors are force to move because of taxes after living here for decades. Families that have been here for years are being forced out too, like the Cuoccis. The plunder needs to end. We have 100 people who work for Fair Lawn who make 3x the media salary of those of us who live here. We have typists who make $60k, a clerk who makes almost $150k, etc, all BEFORE benefits. There is still plenty of fat left in the budget, and it needs to be trimmed. There are many services we should not provide or outsource. We can deal with it now, or compound the problem further. If we don't do something soon, bankruptcy will be here before we know it.
Tommy P April 26, 2012 at 11:04 PM
I have thick skin, and a good amount of patience, so let me try to restate for you. I am for PARENTAL CHOICE, no one cares more about their kid's future then parents do, we should empower parents to select which school their kids goto, not assign them to a government school based on where a bureaucrat draws the district lines. 16% opt out with any financial incentive, the number would be much higher if we tied the money to the students. If we offered parents 60% of the amount the BOE spends per pupil, we would cut enrollment more than half and save 15 to 20% very quickly. With that said, its very difficult for a town to that on its own. So since we are maintaining these schools, cutting the grass and cleaning the toilets doesn't command $100k in the free market, we shouldn't expect the taxpayer to pay that much either. At a time the BOE is looking to cut services to keep the janitors, kindergarten students only get a half day. Does that seem right to you? What ever happened to the kids first? I don't care if Memorial Pool exists or not, those who do, and use it, should pay for it. How that is not a Republican principle is beyond me. Over Cosgrove's term in office it will cost us over $10,00,000 for the library, why don't we merge it with Glen Rock or Elmwood Park? Do you have any idea how much we pay the staff there?
delgado April 27, 2012 at 01:52 AM
The Republican Chief of Staff to Kathe Donovan/Fair Lawn Mayor Barratta and the $193k County Adminstrator/Lawyer/Deputy Mayor PLEDGED smaller government. Now that have to deliever. The Honorable Councilman Peluse stood up for America and Fair Lawn and held them to their promise. Now it is clear the Republicans have failed to deliver. It can be spin anyway you want, but the Republicans have failed. The must now be voted out of office. Its that simple.
Michael Agosta April 27, 2012 at 05:22 AM
Funny thing. Brent Pohlman didn't exist until a couple of months ago. Having never been involved in Republican matters, he is blindly defending Baratta and Trawinski. Enjoy it for now. 2013 is coming up.
Go Figure April 27, 2012 at 12:29 PM
I say let the council members keep their stipend, it doesn't amount to much and they certainly do spend that and more during the year. But there is no reason why part time politicians should be taking health benefits from the Borough. When the town was experiencing furloughs and layoffs Council members Swain and Weinstein never once offered to give up the benefits which would have saved almost 2 furlough days. Put your money where your mouth is and walk the talk -- give back those expensive benefits.
Tommy P April 27, 2012 at 01:56 PM
They should give all the employees raises to match the cost of benefits, then make the copay on ALL benefits 100%. If an employee wanted better benefits, they could pay more, if they wanted less or none, they would pocket more. It would then be a no brainer to offer health insurance to part timers.
Janice April 27, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Delgado, Smaller government and less taxes and you're a democrat? You sound like a republican, or even worse - Thomas Paine!!! When did we change course? I'm totally confused.
Chris Antonelli April 27, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Well, now that everyone has seemed to calm down, I'd like to point out a few facts: First, the inflated muni budget goes way back to the Ganz era. If you took the time to do some research, you would see the 16 point increase in taxes in 04 and the 6 point or so increase in 05. Add to that all the bonding thru the various financial vehicles offered by the county at the time (see Oury and Ferriero appointees)(Bonding police cars for 10 years when the serviceable life is 3), plus the Rec center. But over the past few years, all of those bills have come due. You can get away with putting off payments for a while, but debt service will eventually need to get paid. If you really look at it, there is nothing appreciable to cut! Ganz and his gang spent us into oblivion. You are seeing the result of reckless spending. Not a single one of you were at any of the meetings during the time Ganz was doing all of this. I was there. Me, Baratta and a few others. Now everyone wants to take cheap shots at the majority, 2 of which stabilized the blind spending of the former majority. All of you need to go back and do a little research instead of coming here and spouting off like a bunch of uninformed people. There's plenty of data to be sorted through. Go seek it out. Enough of this tomfoolery. ( Sorry Ed. :) I had to. )
Tommy P April 27, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Chris, you are right on many historical fronts. You also missed the 8-ton gorilla on our tax bill the BoE. Should I call on the Council to condemn the Abbott Districts which send $38,000,000 of Fair Lawn tax payer dollars to Hoboken and 30 other towns? Your right there have been a number of cheap shots, at the majority and the minority, its seems the only thing that's not cheap is our tax bill. The debt issues are very real, but so it the town's entertainment bill. Given the dire situation that Metzler speaks of, why are we subsidizing a pool? Why do we have a Senior Center which caters to nonresidents? Why is it that we have a town minibus passing the County minibus on Fair Lawn Ave? Why is it that we give money to Fair Lawn All Sports, FIHAL and others, and still maintain a rec staff? Why is it that we can't get a single town to share a library with us? Why do we have dozens and dozens (over 100) employees making over $100k which is 3x the median income? The Mayor's boss claims towns can save millions by working together, you'd think her chief of staff would set an example, or maybe her administrator could.
Chris Antonelli April 27, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Could you please expand upon this 38M dollars you keep talking about? Where are you getting these numbers from?
Chris Antonelli April 27, 2012 at 06:29 PM
To your other points, the median income for our town in roughly 55K. Hardly the 3x you say. All Sports, Pool, Library are all services that, believe it or not, people use. And did you once think for a minute that other towns do not want to share with us? And do we have dozens and dozens? Do you have a break down by department? And you need to stop worrying about the Mayor's boss. She doesn't live here, nor does she govern here. She is the County Executive and really has no governing power. That right there is a cheap shot. Maybe you should get yourself to a Council meeting and voice your concerns. And don't blame the Council for the BOE. They have a separate board that governs that. Those issues should be spoken about in front of them. You seem to lump them together. They meet once a month.
Jenne April 27, 2012 at 06:40 PM
I do wonder where Thomas Paine gets the claim that $33K is the "median income." The Median *household* income for 2010 in Fair Lawn, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, was 91,852, whereas the mean (aka the generally accepted average) was 110,608 for households. That left a per capita (including all children, etc.) income of 40,908.
Tommy P April 27, 2012 at 07:14 PM
I was a bit distracted when I posed that, I intended to point out the per capita income for borough residents is $32,273. I stand corrected.
Tommy P April 27, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Chris, there are several sources which calculate the costs of the Abbott district funding laws, http://fairschoolfunding.com/ has dated information which understates the problem as $32,859,105. I have non-public sources which calculate the number closer to $39m. The above website does not account for sales taxes which represent a sizable portion of the difference.
Tommy P April 27, 2012 at 07:33 PM
@Chris, here is a dated list of 116 people, or 9+ dozen who make $100k http://unfairlawn.wordpress.com Ever wonder why the town won't publish on it's website the payroll even though its public record? Your right about the Mayor's boss not living here, but last time I checked Fair Lawn is in Bergen County. Under the state charter, the County Executive handles the day-to-day operations of the county government, appointing the department heads and overseeing the activities of all departments and divisions. Considering the selective enforcement of the county, isn't that defacto governance? All that said, end the county already. I understand other towns don't like entering into interlocal agreements, who wants to run on the slogan, "We did the right thing, we cut your taxes and the [...] is now in the next town." Instead they all want to be the "last one standing" to provide the services to the other towns. Until bankruptcy hits, or more people start realizing we can't print as a town, we will continue to waste money on these duplicative services. I don't blame the council for the BOE, I was just pointing out the reason our taxes are so high, is not primarily the council's fault.
Chris Antonelli April 27, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Your link doesn't work, but it is very disingenuous of you to say 38M of Fair Lawn's tax dollars go to the Abbott districts. Fair Lawn collectively hasn't sent anything close to that dollar amount. All tax and fees revenue in Fair Lawn goes directly to fund the town. Income tax and other taxes fund the state. If someone didn't know any better, they might think that information, by the way it's worded, is correct. You may want to check that list on the other site regarding FL salaries. On the Municipal side, some of those people are no longer here, and an overwhelming majority are police officers. On the BOE side, that's something to bring up at a BOE meeting. Either way, you're dealing with unions on that one. I can't verify the names on the BOE list, but I would gather that since the pay is high, and there have been a lot of retirements since then, those numbers are wrong as well. Please check your facts prior to posting this information. It's not correct.
Go Figure April 27, 2012 at 09:57 PM
I looked at the police website and it looks like six of those officers are retired that are on TP's provided list. That's a lot of savings with their retirements and no subsequent replacements.
Tommy P April 27, 2012 at 10:53 PM
@Chris, its not my link, it State Senator Doherty's link http://fairschoolfunding.com which is understated. I live in Fair Lawn, I pay state income tax. The justification for that tax was for the children and seniors. The state sends money to every board of education. If they did it equally per pupil, we'd get that money I highlighted. Are kids in Hoboken and the other 30 towns more equal then our kids? Ever hear of equal protection? (14th amendment) Fair Lawn taxpayers fund Hoboken and the other 30 Abbott districts to the tune of $38,000,000+ every year, use the lower amount of $32m+, its still almost 40% of our school budget. Yet our BoE and Council think its okay by their silence on the issue. I can't vouch for the information at the other website, except that it matches the 2008 database of one the large press organizations fairly closely. The truth is it should be published on the borough's website, and regularly updated. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Maybe that's why the council passed a resolution condemning the expansion of the Sunshine Laws, yet we have silence on Abbott.
Deleted because of harassment April 29, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Please - if you don't understand what a water town is for, go find a dunce hat and step away from the computer. We all already know you are "not a water expert".
Deleted because of harassment April 29, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Stu: Humor is an alien concept to people who want to accuse politicians of every evil under the sun and think charging $5 for rabies shots is somehow an improvement while neglecting that it's hard enough to get people to not play with the sick raccoon in the yard or take their pets to get shots at all, much less something that does a public service like the prevention of a fatal disease that is communicable to people even if their pets aren't visibly sick.
Hackensack Marty April 29, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Wow The Fairlawn corruption is catching up with the ZISA corruption down here in Hackensack. The double dipping ruling class in Fairlawn Trawinski and Baratta's days are numbered.
Deleted because of harassment April 29, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Psst...."delgado/Allison/? has a new id. Same old BS and catchphrase.
delgado May 01, 2012 at 12:29 AM
actually is doesnt stop, with the new developing scandal at Bergen Community College under Baratta/Trewinski, where under there noses a "pay-for grades" scandal devloped, add in the Federal charges of theft at Communtiy Development and the tie in between the drugs found in Donovans house could also be tied to drugs found amongst say some Fair Lawn residents, the same old B.S. becomes the scandals of Fair Lawn become the scandals of Bergen County... (and yes, they are double dippers)
Harry July 10, 2012 at 06:02 AM
I agree. I would like the council to do what is best for Fair Lawn,not their poppycock political fiddlefaddle political party.
Harry July 10, 2012 at 06:16 AM
YES!!!!! now this is getting fun. And Brent, it's a $5,000.00 a year stipend each plus $30,000.00 a year Medical benefits each. So if all 5 took this that is $175,000.00 a year.
Harry July 10, 2012 at 06:35 AM
Tommy P, I agree with almost all of your ideas except the Library,Anyone with a BCCLS card can use any library in bergen county. But I am thinking of our children. They need the library and how can they,especially the younger ones,get to one out of town when both parents have to work? How much would it cost to keep the schools open to use those libraries? And remember you have to keep them all open. And please don't say the internet,they are on those piddlewiddle computers too much already.

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