Saturday, November 19, 2005

City Council Aims for 1.6 Percent Tax Increase

City Council members wrapped up budget talks Friday (Nov. 18, 2005) with proposals that would result in a lower tax increase than the 2.7 percent hike originally set for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Finance Director Ron West said the changes would result in a tax rate of $3.058 per $100 of assessed valuation, down from the $3.08 per $100 anticipated rate set in July for the third and fourth quarters of the calendar year.

The proposals include reconfiguring Economic Development, eliminating two new police dispatchers and four code enforcement staffers. In all, personnel cuts and reallocations would yield savings of $3 million.

The changes must be reviewed by state officials, but the council expects to introduce amendments on Nov. 28, with a public hearing and possible final passage on Dec. 19.

The council wants to change Economic Development from a cabinet-level post at $94,501, with an assistant director of Community Development at $72,347 and a part-time principal planner, to a director at $75,000 with a full-time principal planner at $62,781. But city officials told the council that the director title had never been approved by prior councils.

Eliminating the assistant director could also affect the functioning of the city's Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ), whose activities the assistant director oversees, officials said. But Councilman Ray Blanco said the city should look at how other Urban Enterprise Zones handle their management.

Council members also wanted to eliminate the director of Public Affairs and Safety and a clerk in that office, but City Clerk Laddie Wyatt reminded the council that the post was one of three department heads mandated in the City Charter. Because a new administration will be taking over Jan. 1, the council members decided to defer the decision and restored funding through the June 30 end of the fiscal year.

Between personnel increases and UEZ recommendations, the council expects to add five more police officers in the 2006 fiscal year. However, the officers funded with UEZ funds can only be deployed in the zone that includes the central business district and corridors to east and west within the zone.

The council members also agreed to use UEZ funds to provide video surveillance of downtown Plainfield, with a surveillance center in the Tepper's building.

Chief Finance Officer Pete Sepelya and Finance Director Ron West will translate the proposals into budget amendments that will be published before the Dec. 19 hearing.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: city council, budget

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