Montclair Township Council Honors Former Resident For Military Service, 2019 Proposed Budget Discussed

A special ceremony was held to honor a former Montclair resident for his military service. Barry DeShong, was a student at Montclair High School, when in 1942 he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He was presented with a proclamation and certificate by Mayor Robert Jackson, along with Councilwoman Renee Baskerville and council members honoring him for his service during the Township Council meeting on Feb. 19.

Former Montclair resident Barry DeShong who was honored by Mayor Robert Jackson and council members for his military service during the Township Council meeting on Feb. 19. Pictured is DeShong (center) flanked by Councilwoman Renee Baskerville and Mayor Robert Jackson.

Jackson recognized DeShong as being one of the first African-Americans to serve in the Corps following the 1941 executive order issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in order to establish fair employment and to end discrimination in the United State Armed Forces. He discussed the time period during World War II when all African-American recruits were housed in segregated quarters at Camp Montford Point, located in Jacksonville, North Carolina and were denied the traditional training provided to all other recruits. Ultimately, it led to President Harry Truman signing an executive order in 1948, to end many years of discrimination and segregation in the United States Armed Forces that eventually led to the end of segregation in the Armed Services.

“Over the course of his career in the military, DeShong earned many medals and awards for his distinguished service, setting an example for his fellow marines,” Jackson said, adding that DeShong was part of the 51st unit, a group that distinguished itself as the finest artillery gunners in the Marine Corps. Jackson further added that in 1944 DeShong returned to the Township to collect his diploma from Montclair High School. Then in 2012, Congress honored DeShong with the Congressional Gold Medal which was authorized to be awarded to members of the Montford Point Marines in recognition of their accomplishments and sacrifices during this time of segregation.

Jackson closed the proclamation by stating the council recognized his accomplishments and services and, “salutes him as a fine example among members of our Montclair community.”

DeShong thanked Jackson and councilmembers, adding “It’s been quite an experience.”

2019 Preliminary Budget Talks Begin

A discussion was held on the 2019 proposed budget structure which included several departmental services up for review. It lists the 2019 budget unofficially at $91,097,924 compared with the 2018 budget of $87,851,444, with a total tax levy increase of 1.54 percent. The budget proposal entails the state’s 2 percent increase cap with statutory exceptions. The amount subject to the cap increase stands at $1,535,281, with an index increasing it to $2,149,393. It covers budgeted projections for the Township’s fire and police departments, including the Department of Utilities and Department of Health and Human Services. The amount of $814,757 is the remainder left to be spent towards remaining services.

The amount subject to the cap in 2019 stands at $63,864,553. According to Bob Benecke, township financial consultant, there was little room for flexibility. He added that the code enforcement and property maintenance enforcement, fully functioning senior services, including other priority service initiatives, must be financed within the budget caps. He presented the review with Chief Financial Officer Padmaja Rao, and stated that one of the most important goals for this year’s budget planning was to maintain the Township’s AAA bond rating given by Standard & Poor’s, noting that the credit rating had suffered in past years, along with other municipalities in the state due to the prior recession markets.

“We come out with as close to a zero tax rate increase as possible and we’ve achieved that through various mechanisms, the important one being one-time costs,” Benecke said, emphasizing that the $1,790,683 amount is budgeted for a police pension invoice increase. He added that public safety was the first priority followed by quality of life initiatives.

Several fire and police officials also spoke during the evening to explain some of the improvements in programs and equipment that were being requested in 2019. Timothy Stafford, township manager, highlighted the fire department’s two new engines which were recently purchased, the latest in what he called “the governing bodies’ effort to ‘catch up’ for a significant period of time where no rigs were purchased and no significant capital improvements were made,” including personal protective equipment.

“This governing body has taken this on and we have three new rigs in the past 24 months,” Stafford noted. “Additionally, appropriate capital planning is critical given their robust numbers of runs in 2018 and the numbers of working fires our department has dealt with, as well as the high number of inspections.”

Stafford also commended the rigorous training program that every firefighter receives.

Stafford then publicly thanked the financial committee and economic development committees for their work over the course of the entire year regarding operational and capital finance issues as well as “broad economic generation throughout the township.” He specifically thanked Brian Scantlebury, deputy township manager and Ira Karasick, township attorney. He also touted Rao and Benecke.

“They do an enormous amount of work with our department heads.and their leadership team to get us to this point,” he said. “The amount of work is really incredible.”

Baskerville added that the 2019 budget was currently only in the discussion stage and that more departments in the township needed to be heard during the next township council sessions.

The preliminary budget is scheduled to be presented at the March 5 Township Council meeting.

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