Council Introduces Budget Amendments
City Administrator Marc Dashield explained each amendment and the council voted on them as a whole, instead of a voice vote on every line, as in the past. The next step is for the amendments to be published before a hearing set for 8 p.m. on April 27 in Municipal Court. The council may then pass the amended budget.
Taxpayers should see a "dramatic decrease" in their next tax bills, Dashield said, because estimated bills had been set at "5 percent." Dashield said the city needs to "do a PR campaign" to publicize the new rate. But when Council President Rashid Burney asked whether residents had been "overbilled," Dashield said "yes."
The total budget for FY 2009, as amended, is $68 million, down from $72 million.
Among the changes, the "other expenses" category for the Corporation Counsel's office increased 65 percent, from $270,000 to $445,000, due to anticipated legal costs for several pending lawsuits, including the city's appeal of the Muhlenberg closing. Public Information costs dropped from $110,000 to zero, because the office was collapsed into Information Technology, which in turn saw an increase from $75,000 in other expenses to $210,000. Gasoline costs went up 22 percent to $414,000. and street lighting went up 9.4 percent to $635,000.
Many other categories were reduced, including a $100,000 cut to the Plainfield Public Library.
The amendments included changing a payment in lieu of taxes for the Allen-Young Apartments from $1,847,266.20 to $184,266.20, to cure a typo. But another one crept in, when a capital improvements figure went from $560,000 to $5,600,000.
The net budget change went from a proposed tax increase of 9.5 percent to just a 2.2 percent increase in the local tax levy over last year.
Besides having to wait on the state for budget information, the city also saw shifts in personnel that slowed things down. Finance Director Douglas Peck left in December and for the second time in the past three years, Dashield had to serve in that role in addition to his own. The city also had to wait for state legislation allowing pension deferral for tax relief.