Montclair Council Concludes 2011With Minor Kerfuffle Over Pre-K

The Montclair Township Council’s final meeting for 2011, on December 29, was its annual finance meeting, with only Second Ward Councilor Cary Africk absent.

The finance meeting, in which resolutions regarding expenditures that have to be paid by the end of the year and loose ends that have to be tied up are addressed, occurred mostly without controversy. Eleven out of twelve resolutions, which covered issues such as canceling a bond ordinance after the completion of public works improvements and the return of a $32,250 performance guarantee to a developer for planting trees in accordance with township requirements, passed unanimously. But a minor dustup was caused when First Ward Councilor Rich Murnick sought to amend the temporary budget for 2012 to include funding for the Montclair Community Pre-K.

Murnick had hoped that an inclusion of Pre-K in the temporary budget would give Township Manager Marc Dashield some direction in preparing a 2012 budget to introduce on February 3. “If we did put it back in the temporary, budget, then we’d still have an opportunity as a council to discuss pre-K and the budget is then introduced by the manager, as we then go forward,” he said.

Murnick feared that if Pre-K didn’t get funding by the start of the new year, there would be a risk that pre-K enrollment might not occur and bills might not be paid. He recommended that the $75,000 included for Pre-K in the temporary budget for the first quarter of 2011 be reprised for the temporary budget for the first quarter of 2012, which would then force a discussion on the issue for the permanent budget. To his dismay, his proposal was not seconded, and some of the councilors attempted to explain their refusal to do so.

“If we voted to amend the budget as you suggest,” Third Ward Councilor Nick Lewis said, “we’d be voting now to give the pre-K the $75,000, period, as opposed to having the discussion that you want to have.” Mayor Jerry Fried said it would be inappropriate to make a policy decision on a single issue about the entire budget, and Lewis said he’s be happy to discuss the issue later.

Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville admonished Murnick for suggesting that the council had no interest in pre-K funding and found the way he introduced his amendment “perplexing.”

“You have nothing in writing about what the expenses were for last year, or whatever it is that you’re trying to introduce,” she said. “If I would have had something in writing that explained what their budget is, all the different things, and something I can visualize and had a chance to go over, it would have been easy for me to try to understand this.”

Dashield suggested that if the council’s budget subcommittee could discuss pre-K and give their recommendations to him early, it would be the best way to do it. Murnick disagreed and voted against the passage of the temporary budget, with the other five council members present voting to approve it.

Earlier in the discussion about the temporary budget, Dashield said that additional money was added going into 2012 for storm clearance, and Baskerville asked if there were any other additions. Township Chief Financial Officer Frank Mason reported that expenses for dump fees associated with storms and for natural gas were added in anticipation of necessary expenditures for the coming winter months. Dashield said that the previous year’s budget is simply being moved forward to allow the township to operate for the next three months, and that expenses are not to exceed 26.25 percent of the total 2011 budget.

Also, a resolution authorizing payment to the law firm Nowell Amoroso Klein Bierman for legal representing the Township in tax appeal cases passed unanimously. Township Attorney Ira Karasick explained before the vote that the $92,000 payment represented the entire year of 2011, with about 175 property tax cases still pending in court. Karasick had nothing but praise for the firm’s work for the township.

“They’ve been working really hard to clean them up,” he said.

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  1. As much as I try, I simply cannot force myself to read this account. I have too many other, more compelling things competing for my attention. I have a hangnail that needs biting. I’m in the middle of a bag of pretzels. I haven’t checked Mr. Jingle’s whereabouts today yet.

    I can, however, give my enthusiastic endorsement to use of the world “kerfuffle.”

  2. Maybe I need to take back what I said about the council spending money recklessly. It looks like they got a bargain from the law firm Nowell Amoroso Klein Bierman for legal representing the Township in tax appeal cases.

    I know I would not travel to the Essex County Tax Board offices in the Essex County Economic Development Center located at 50 South Clinton Street, East Orange, NJ, for a mere $92,000!

  3. This is sad. When my son was Pre-K age, he was able to attend Nishuane school, with no cost to me. I am greatful for that, as a younge single mother, I was able to get a job after graduating college, and my son was able to begin his schooling. Its my understanding that Monthclair Pre-K can’t even offer the sliding scale this year? Or maybe thats just a rumor I heard. I feel for the parents who are unable to send their children to school, and therefore they are unable to work.

  4. Here’s a solution to the tuition problem. You could work, then take the money that you make and pay the tuition for pre-k. Problem solved.

  5. THis is a notice to cease and desist, deadeye. I hold the copyrights to “problem solved.” Usually I say “another problem solved!” but my lawyers tell me your phrase is too close for comfort.

  6. Have you looked at the prices for that pre-K – hardly a bargain…but if you check-out preK’s at the next town (i.e. West Orange) it’s a 1/3 of the price. Not sure why we need to pay for this service, there are other options less than 5 miles away….and yeah, I’m paying mega bucks for 2 kids to attend preK with no help from the tax payers – not house poor, just child care poor! 🙁

  7. I would have liked to have been at the meeting, but a family health issue took precedence.

    I am not surprised that the Council decided to resolve this “issue” by not talking about it.

    Since first using this tactic with the MEDC, where the sole employee was left hanging without a contract for over two months, through the nightmare that the MAC was forced through, to the events with the Pre-K the mantra has been “let’s see what happens when we don’t talk about difficult issues.”

    This strategy seldom works for families, individuals, or nations.

    But it does manage to hurt people.

    Could our Pre-K population be better served? Sure. Families all over need a range of support services, starting with pre-natal and infant care and nutrition programs.

    Are we going to re-do this in the next month? No.

    But just like the refusal of the Council to even HEAR the Capital Finance Committee’s report, this refusal to even HEAR the Pre-K is stubborn and foolish.

    Cary Africk
    2nd Ward Councilor

  8. We should not be funding pre-K whatsoever. We’re broke. EVERY non-essential service should be on the chopping block.

  9. ROC,

    Would love to see what you, or anyone else, considers to be “non-essential.”

    The Pre-K is not funded by the Town. The Town has contributed, in the past, to funding scholarships for children who can demonstrate financial need.

    The Town also contributes funds to people who can’t afford pool passes, or payment for recreational programs. As well as contributing to First Night this year.

    The Town has also directed a portion of the approximately $500,000 in CDBG funds this year to a variety of social programs.

  10. Cary,

    Those are all excellent examples of what it means to meet the definition of “non-essential.” I am sure you can come up with others.

  11. Walt,

    Here’s the thing: there are many who considers those things “essential.” That “Montclair wouldn’t be Montclair” without them. For example, take the affordable housing initiative on Wildwood. In order to make such housing available, Montclair may very well have to sell two lots, appraised at $350K each, for $80K each, or perhaps even give them away.

    The Mayor is quoted as saying this is an important thing for us to do. And he probably has a majority of the Council willing to agree with him.

  12. You know Cary? Millburn’s privatized sanitation starts tomorrow. They are saving $800,000 per year. They also eliminated recycling drop-offs on Saturday to reduce overtime. In Montclair, they are selling open space to build affordable housing resulting in a net loss for the town precipitating higher taxes on those who can hardly afford to live here any longer. Only in Montclair, is it a good idea to sell open space to cover operating costs, to create affordable housing which will actually make it harder for the lower income residents to be able to afford to stay in town. Go Fried!!!

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