Montclair Township released this announcement following last night’s Montclair council meeting:
Montclair Township’s 2019 introduced municipal budget will have NO tax increase. The introduced budget stands at $91,112,587 with the same tax rate as last year. If the budget is adopted in its current form, the municipal tax rate will remain at $0.783. A home assessed at $600,000 will have the same $4,698 municipal tax bill as it did last year – municipal taxes for 2019 remain the same as for 2018.
Many New Jersey municipalities find it necessary to increase annual taxes at the 2% state-mandated cap because of growing healthcare and other benefit costs. Through aggressive cost-cutting and smart fiscal decisions, Montclair kept its tax rate flat at 0%.
Moreover, the Council Economic Development Committee – which comprises Deputy Mayor Sean M. Spiller, Councilwoman Renee Baskerville, and Councilwoman Robin Schlager – helped add $20M in rateables in 2018 which contributed to a lower tax rate in 2019.
The biggest line item increase in the 2019 budget is a retroactive pension increase of nearly $1.1M for police and fire pensions. This increase is a result of lengthy negotiations and state pension division processing delays of contractual increases from 2016 through 2018. The Township is using $2.3M of its fund balance to offset one-time costs like these. At the end of 2018, the Township holds a strong fund balance reserve of $14M, reflecting a 180% increase from 2012.
“The Township has strong budget flexibility – that speaks to being able to pay a $1,079,000 retroactive bill without injuring our tax credit,” said township financial advisor Bob Benecke. “Credit rating companies like Standard & Poor’s especially hone in on budget flexibility and liquidity issues. This is one reason why the Township was able to obtain – and maintain – its AAA rating. By cutting our debt we increase our bond rating, reduce our carrying interest costs and we create a solid foundation to our fiscal situation as well as to the budget,” said Mr. Benecke.
The operating budget includes a municipal debt pay down of $7.8M, in line with Council’s debt reduction policy. Since 2012, the Township reduced its debt by $57M, bringing gross outstanding debt down from $223M to $166M – a more than 25% reduction.
Along with the operating budget, the Township introduced a $6.9M capital bond ordinance that in 2019 will fund approximately 10 miles of road paving and curbing, park and playground renovations as well as equipment and vehicle purchases.
“This year’s operating and capital budgets are a continuation of our overall focus of improving the town’s infrastructure while strengthening its financial condition,” said Mayor Robert Jackson.
Over the last seven years, the Township has seen the following enhancements and improvements:
- paved and curbed 44.62 miles of roads;
- replaced three out of five fire apparatus;
- renovated Edgemont, Porter, Yantacaw Brook and Canterbury parks;
- reconstructed Canterbury tennis courts, Rand field, Mountainside ball field;
- replaced several packers, snow plows, dump trucks, pickup trucks;
- replaced more than 1,000 shade trees
“We’ve completed nearly 45 miles of our 83 local miles already and our plan is to continue paving and curbing until all roads in town are completed,” said the Mayor. “We will also replace the remaining two fire apparatus by 2021 to further update the Fire Department fleet,” he said.
“That the Township is able to achieve a zero municipal tax rate increase while, at the same time, investing in long-neglected infrastructure needs and reducing overall debt, is quite an achievement,” said Councilor William L. Hurlock.
Councilor Hurlock serves on the Council Finance Committee with Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon and the Mayor.
Where do Municipal Tax Dollars Go?
Public safety is allocated 30 % of total tax dollars (police and fire operations); 15% goes to health and liability insurance, reserves for retiree payouts and uncollected taxes; 9% goes toward employee pension costs. Municipal debt service accounts for 11 % of tax dollars and school debt service accounts for 9% (Montclair is a Type 1 school district which means the Township is required to service school debt).
Public works receives 10%, while 9% goes to all other departments including health, recreation, legal, finance, information technology, human resources, planning and zoning, and the Township Manager’s office. The public library receives 4% and 2% goes toward utility costs such as electricity, gas, telephone, etc.
2019 Budget Highlights
In order to maintain the optimal level of public safety staff, this year’s budget provides for the replacement of all firefighters and police officers who will retire in 2019. The number of school crossing guards will increase to 60 (currently at 50).
The Fire Department acquired two new engines this year for a total cost of $1M, further updating its fleet – the Department replaced a ladder truck in 2017. Three of the Township’s five apparatus have now been replaced. The second ladder truck will be replaced in 2020 and the third engine will be replaced by 2021. Funding for firefighter training continues in 2019.
The Police Department budget includes $112,000 allocated for software licenses alone. The Department recently achieved accreditation from the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police. Accreditation status represents a significant professional achievement which acknowledges that the Department’s policies and procedures are conceptually sound and operationally effective. Continual review of policies as well as the training necessary to keep the department at the level required for accreditation status is funded in the 2019 budget.
Capital funding is provided for the acquisition of police vehicles, Segways, traffic control apparatus and other equipment required for public safety and community engagement. The Township will also purchase and install additional rectangular rapid flashing beacons to improve pedestrian safety at intersections.
The Township will replace the oldest ambulance in the Montclair Ambulance Unit (MAU) fleet for $106,000.
“There is a continuous need to replace ambulances. As I understand, they generally have a service life of five to seven years”, said Councilor McMahon. “Like with other public safety apparatus, it’s important to have the MAU fleet on a replacement schedule that ensures they are in optimal condition for the safety of the public and the EMTs.”
In 2018, Montclair made significant investments in technology upgrades in nearly all areas of township operations.
The township network was completely separated from that of the Board of Education to ensure the security and privacy of student records and law enforcement data. The Office of Information Technology is currently implementing new system infrastructure and new voice over internet technology (VoIP).
Video cameras were installed in parking decks, streets and township swimming pools last year. Cameras were also installed at the Bay Street Parking Deck and will be installed in remaining train stations this year.
The 2019 budget is also seeing new initiatives, such as AI-powered video analytics software for video cameras to provide real-time analysis for active and post-event investigations (annual subscription $38,500). This technology will significantly enhance speed, accuracy and coordination of response among police, fire and ambulance units.
The Township is now partnering with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), a nationwide, broadband network that equips first responders to save lives and protect communities.
New records management software is being implemented for the Fire Department. Police implementation took place last year. The software will enable first responders to access more comprehensive information much more quickly.
Public Works, Code Enforcement, Building Department
Since 2013, the Department of Community Services has paved and curbed 44.62 miles of roadway. The 2019 budget provides funding for approximately 10 additional miles of paving and curbing throughout the Township.
Investments in parks and playgrounds continue to be a priority – 2019 will see continued work in Mountainside and Yantacaw Brook parks, along with new improvements to Tuers Park and playground. The Township is also seeking Green Acres grants to upgrade several other parks and playgrounds throughout town.
The Department will see a half-million dollar increase in its budget which will include the addition of a full-time employee in the uniform construction code division to further accelerate permitting operations.
The Department’s budget increases are driven mainly by trash and recycling expenses, including increased solid waste tipping fees. The Township installed additional Bigbelly smart bins in all the business districts towards the end of 2018. The additional bins require greater annual maintenance fees.
The 2019 budget also includes funding to maintain $1M dollars in reserve for storm recovery efforts.
The Code Enforcement Division has identified 44 intersections for pre-treating and snow-clearing to enhance pedestrian safety. Additional funding is provided for treating and clearing operations at these intersections and at the perimeters of the Township’s six train stations.
Code Enforcement inspectors are currently training to become authorized to carry out field inspections of hotels and multi-family dwellings.
The Township has made tremendous investments in park improvements in the last few years and continues with its efforts in Mountainside Park this year with nearly $600,000 to be spent on improving the park’s ball fields.
Health, Nursing, Animal Shelter
The Health Department is aggressively involved in the Childhood Lead Elimination program. The Department is adding two part-time nurses to help with screening, case management and environmental investigation efforts.
The Department will further enhance its screenings and programming. This will include initiatives to train preschool staff on immunization regulations and communicable disease, provide classes to school nurses on immunizations and outbreak control in schools, offer education on protecting adolescents from HPV and other important health programming.
The Division of Senior Services/Lifelong Montclair continues to improve livability for older adults in the community, allowing them to age in place. Edgemont Park House for Senior Activities – now open nearly three years – had more than 7,000 visitors last year, steadily increasing annual numbers. Programs for 2019 will include an intergenerational story slam, partnerships in the community to expand Montclair Institute for Lifelong Learning (MILL) offerings, and a public-facing awareness campaign during Older Americans Month (May).
“Aging in place initiatives make living at home a safe and healthy option for many seniors,” said Councilor Robert Russo. “They help seniors maintain a sense of independence and improve their quality of life by enabling them to continue having connections to their communities and friends.”
The Montclair Animal Shelter became fully functional in June of 2018 after a fire devastated the building in April of 2016. Significant investments are being made to make the Shelter a serene and beautiful place. Its focus is to maintain healthy and nurturing living spaces for the animals and create an inviting place for visitors. Funding in 2019 was increased to include an additional full-time Animal Control Officer, along with two additional part-time kennel attendants.
Other Shelter initiatives for 2019 include enhancing the Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program for homeless/feral cats, training for Animal Control officers, education programs on animal sheltering, such as an “Ask an Animal Control Officer” public session.
Four million dollars has been set aside to replace slip lines and aging water and sewer mains, and to refurbish pumps. Increased staffing will oversee these initiatives and enhance overall operations of all three divisions – Water, Sewer and Parking. Funding is also earmarked to purchase new trucks and other equipment.
New parking access equipment was installed at the Crescent Parking Deck this year, to improve public access to the deck.
The 2019 budget also includes funding for LPR (license plate recognition) technology for Parking Utility permit enforcement.
“The Township of Montclair has seen tremendous success in the last several years,” said Mayor Jackson. “A more than 25% debt reduction, major infrastructure improvements, greatly enhanced services and programs an a AAA bond rating. The Council hopes to build on this moment to achieve even more in 2019 and beyond.”