Try harder to find more savings in next year’s budget. That was the message the West Windsor Council told the administration before voting to approve the 2011 budget, 4-0, on May 16.
The $37.3 million budget was adopted after a public hearing and a presentation by Joanne Louth, the township’s Chief Financial Officer.
The final budget, down from the $37,405,000 million originally proposed by the administration, included reductions in a number of areas as requested by the council.
As a result of the shared services agreement with East Windsor for animal control services, the township saved $22,226 from the elimination of animal control officer Bettina Roed’s position. The township also saved $42,950 from the reduction in overtime and the elimination of one other position. The budget was reduced by another $5,800 from the 5 percent reduction in nonessential overtime. The budget also saw a reduction of $7,200 that resulted from the council’s reduction to the 2011 capital budget.
The final budget, at $37,340,000, also included the addition of grant money for a drunk driving initiative.
Louth said the budget represents a .79 percent increase over last year’s overall budget — the lowest annual budget increase in 17 years.
Among the largest areas of increase are the township’s contributions to the public, police/firemen’s retirement system, which increased by $425,710; debt service, which increased by $120,705; and costs for the Stony Brook Regional Sewerage Authority, which increased by $91,828.
The largest areas of decrease were in the health insurance, which decreased by $190,800, and the refuse collection, which decreased by $133,700.
All other departments within the township decreased their budgets by $20,743, said Louth.
Louth told the council she was concerned about the township’s increasing use of fund balance, or surplus, to offset costs. The amount of surplus used has increased from $3.5 million in 2006 to $4.435 million this year.
When it comes to impact on the township’s residents, the tax levy, or the total amount to be raised by taxation, is $22 million. The tax rate is 36.9 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Under the spending plan, the owner of a home assessed at the township average of $527,376 will pay $1,946 in taxes in 2011, an increase of $127. The owner of a home assessed at the same value last year paid $1,819 in municipal taxes.
Louth said that of the $127 increase, $52 comes directly from state pension costs. The remaining $75 comes from increases at the municipal level.
The capital budget, meanwhile, has been reduced from $4.82 million to $3.989 million. Those reductions came from the council’s earlier decision to forego renovations to the municipal building, a cost of $680,500 and the final phase of the Duck Pond Park, at $151,200.
Councilman George Borek said the township is facing lots of pressure and also must try to consider future unknown factors while going through the budget process. “There’s also reality,” he said. “We need to function here as a township. Without a budget, we can’t do that.”
He said the township must make changes when it negotiates all of its collective bargaining agreements this year, and officials must consider making changes to how different departments within the township are managed. “We need to come up with innovative ways of keeping the costs down in the future.”
Councilwoman Linda Geevers said the township should focus on trying to increase revenues, including re-examining the township’s agreement with the Princeton Theological Seminary.
Councilwoman Diane Ciccone said the reduction in the capital budget will save money in the future, although it has minimal impact on this year’s budget. She also said she was encouraged to hear that the administration and the council will start working collaboratively on the 2012 budget in June.
She said she was also pleased to see that the township saved money in the new garbage collection contract it approved this year, while still maintaining collections twice a week in the summer.
“There is some movement, but I echo my fellow council colleagues that we have to do more,” said Ciccone. “We need to find ways to be more efficient.”
Council President Kamal Khanna said the administration had to work hard to keep the budget under the 2 percent mandated cap on the tax levy increase while maintaining the same level of service in this year’s budget.
He said, though, that “things are not getting any better” in the economy, and in order to do a better job next year, “we have to set goals early in the game.”
He said the efficiency study the township underwent this year was a “wakeup call” but that the township needs further study to see how costs can be reduced.
The handful of residents who attended the meeting criticized the council for not cutting more and for not looking at the budget with a decrease in mind. Resident Pete Weale said, for example, that the project the council approved earlier this month for the expansion of the parking lot at Community Park — at a cost of $398,934.44 — could have been saved if the township had its Department of Public Works employees take care of the work instead.
“Given the challenges we have, we don’t need to be building parking lots in Community Park,” he said.
Resident John Church said he was in the process of analyzing West Windsor’s budget and comparing it with Plainsboro’s and East Windsor’s. One of the facts he has already uncovered is that West Windsor spends $895,000 for fire hydrant services, which he assumes is a blanket charge to the township by its water company.
East Windsor, on the other hand, has its own water supply and is entirely self-sufficient. Meanwhile, “we have to import all of our water and export all of our sewerage,” Church said.
The $895,000 cost to the township “bothers me,” he said, asking the township to look into that matter in next year’s budget. “I don’t see how an expenditure of that amount is really justified,” he said.
He said East Windsor also handles its own refuse collection and does not contract the service out. “I was pleasantly surprised to learn how self-sufficient East Windsor is,” he said.
However, not everyone was urging the council to cut money. Kevin Friis, the chief of the Twin “W” First Aid Squad, said the squad has been requesting a $15,000 increase for the past three years in the money the township contributes to the volunteer squad. The money is needed for ongoing building maintenance, among other needs, he said. He said he hopes the township can increase its contribution to a total of $45,000 next year.
The request comes at a time when fundraising is down. Township Business Administrator Robert Hary said the council can move some of the leftover funds in budget transfers after November 1 to try to help the squad this year. The council also set up a committee of Geevers and Borek to meet with the first aid squad to see what can be done in next year’s budget.