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.