Wednesday, July 27, 2005

State pension costs could increase city taxes

Increased pension costs levied by the state will drive a projected municipal tax increase from 2.1 percent to 2.76 percent, the City Council learned just prior to the council's evening budget deliberations.

At Tuesday's (July 26, 2005) meeting, City Administrator Norton Bonaparte said $425,582 will have to be added to the budget to cover state pension costs.

He said the council may also have to consider funding the position of assistant Public Works director, a post that Public Works Director Priscilla Castles can claim under civil service rules if she is not reappointed when a new administration takes over in January. The terms of all present appointed administrators and department heads will end Dec. 31 along with the tenure of Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, who lost the hard fought June Democratic primary to Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

If the council does not fund the position of assistant director, Castles will still have "bumping" rights under civil service to another city job, Bonaparte said.

The council is still in the early stages of examining the $61 million budget for fiscal year 2006.

A three-member finance committee presented new initiatives Tuesday to improve public safety, communication with the public, youth opportunities, cultural activities and code enforcement.

The initiatives carry a price tag of $360,000.

The committee also began presenting its line-by-line proposed cuts that would lop off about $850,000. That presentation will continue from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday (July 28, 2005) in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

Resident Dottie Gutenkauf said that the city should make sure the library is thoroughly wired for audio before undertaking the video-taping of council agenda sessions.

The first floor library in city hall is the room where the agenda sessions are held in addition to being the location for most board and commission meetings. It has a noisy air conditioner that sits atop a non-working one in a west window. Gutenkauf said residents who attend the meetings can barely hear the council members' remarks now and questioned how the city's public access television station would handle the sound problems. Gutenkauf also remarked that many programs on Channel 74 already have such poor sound quality that they are unintelligible.

The council proposal would allocate $56,000 for the taping.

Council members did not agree Thursday on the committee's proposal to increase police presence on the streets by moving out desk officers and using Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) funds to hire five more officers in addition to five hires included in the budget.

Councilman Don Davis said the issue was not adding officers but finding out how they would be deployed. He said a 22-member special task force now on duty in the city gave the council more time to work on the problem.

Councilman Cory Storch said deployment is strictly up to Police Chief Edward Santiago and also noted the council was told recently that of 121 active officers, 42 are superiors.

Budget talks will be held every Tuesday and Thursday, with a goal of introducing the budget by Aug. 10.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: city council, budget, taxes

Related story: Star-Ledger--N.J. taxpayers face a pension bill of $383 million