Montclair Township Manager Marc Dashield presented the 2014 Montclair municipal budget before the Montclair Township Council at its March 18 meeting. The budget calls for $77.7 million in spending, down from $78.1 million in 2013, with increases for municipal salaries (including for the police and fire department), and $247,000 in new capital improvements but with no tax increases for homeowners. The surplus is expected to remain healthy, with only a little more than $2 million from a surplus of $7 million to be used.
Dashield said that the township was able to keep salaries to a modest increase of 2.3 percent through labor negotiations, with increases in operating expenses held at a relatively 7.6 percent – $3.5 million, up from $3.3 million in 2013 -despite increased spending on snow removal during the winter of 2013-14. He highlighted the small increase in insurance plans at 0.7 percent (about $7.4 million) as a positive step, because insurance costs had long driven municipal spending.
“Based on what we’ve been able to negotiate and moving out of the state health benefits plan, we’re seeing savings there,” he said. Mayor Robert Jackson noted that the township would have spent an extra $1.3 million had it stayed in the state plan.
The budget allows a 15.1 percent decrease in debt service, or the paying of interest and principal on the debt — $8.7 million for 2014, down from the previous year’s $10.2 million — and capital improvements expenditures on $147,000 for equipment and $100,000 in shade trees, two items that would have been funded with debt service before. The school debt service, though, was another story, going up from $6.1 million in 2013 to just over $7 million for 2014. But Dashield said he was able to prevent an impact of the increase, about $901,000, on the taxpayers by having sold municipal bonds last year and receiving a $2.4 million premium. The money received will be used to wipe out this year’s school debt service and then eased in the budget over the next couple of years and have less of an impact on taxpayers.
“What this number does, this brings down the debt, this decreases out cost in debt over the long term, it really is the right decision,” Dashield said.
The water utility and sewer utility budgets would remain relatively stable, with the former down to $6.7 million from $6.8 million in 2013 and the latter up from $4.8 million in 2013 to $4.9 million. The parking utility, however, would see a 20.4 percent decrease, from $1.7 million to $1.4 million, the numbers based on a Montclair Parking Authority audit from 2011 and reflecting what Dashield expects in meter and permit fees. He expects a large gain in permit fees – 23.6 percent – in comparison to a 17.1 decrease in meter fees based on a recalibration of parking fees. The only major change was a cut of $800,000 in the parking utility’s operating surplus, which went to the capital improvement fund. Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) money was not budgeted for 2014 despite Montclair’s inability to get FEMA reimbursements for Hurricane Sandy and the October Surprise snowstorm of 2011, but he said the township would receive them eventually.
Details are to be ironed out as a matter of policy in budget hearings going forward. The budget resolution was unanimously passed by the council. The hearing on the budget resolution is slated for the May 6 council meeting, at which time objections to the resolution may be presented.
The council also passed on first reading ordinances that were discussed at the March 11 conference meeting. In the public comment, food truck owner Jon Hepner, who is also president of the New Jersey Food Truck Association, addressed the mobile vendors ordinance pertaining to Montclair High School, saying that the three spots allotted, two on Chestnut Street and one on North Fullerton Avenue, would be allotted to the vendors with the deepest pockets, but Dashield told him the bids would be sealed to ensure a fair process. Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville, seeking to put the nutritional value of the food served, asked Hepner how he felt about nutrition labeling. He said it was a reasonable request, and that the Thai food he serves is of the highest quality, with the freshness of the ingredients a key concern.
Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon thought the problem with the ordinance was that it didn’t offer enough mobile vendor slots. Noting the presence of five mobile vendors on a recent trip past Montclair High School, he proposed a second slot for North Fullerton Avenue in the ordinance, for a total of four authorized vendors, to decrease the waiting time for students on their lunch break. “If you limit it to three as opposed to the five that they’re kind of used to, they’re gonna be in line and late getting back to class,” he said. “If you give them a little bit more option, it’ll actually move quicker and get them back into school.” Dr. Baskerville said that she felt comfortable with the three slots recommended by a committee that included police and high school administrative staff. In the end, McMahon’s proposed amendment to add a fourth slot was defeated 4-3, with only First Ward Councilor William Hurlock and Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager siding with him. The unamended ordinance allowing three vendors passed unanimously.
McMahon lost again in his protest against Dr. Baskerville’s ordinance banning smoking in public parks and township buildings. He objected to the idea of making any visitor or public employee who wants to smoke at these properties vacate them when smoking per se is still legal. “I don’t think it makes any sense,” he said.
The ordinance passed on first reading with McMahon casting the sole vote against it. An amendment dropping electronic cigarettes, which emit a water vapor rather than carcinogenic smoke, was also passed, 6-1, with McMahon again the sole dissenting vote.
The council also honored with a proclamation Jean and Duncan Kidd, two active Montclair residents, for their service to the township as they prepare to move elsewhere. Mrs. Kidd’s involvement with the Adult School of Montclair, where she served as an executive director from 1975 to 1982 and as president of the board from 1989, and headed the May in Montclair organization. Her husband served on the commission that recommended the township’s current council-manager form of government. Yogi Berra’s late wife Carmen was also honored by proclamation for her work with various charities.