Garwood council approved the 2012 municipal budget at Tuesday night's council meeting. The total tax increase is 3.8 percent over last year, 10.51 tax points, which equates to an increase of $105 per 100,000 in residents' assessed home value. See a PDF of the full budget in our gallery, right.
"The bottom line is that we are maintaining all Garwood services, while staying within the governor's two-percent cap," said Todisco when she presented the budget last month. This year's budget also includes increased funding for recreation and seniors.
"The extra funding for seniors is to make up for the difference from cut HUD funding," explained Todisco. "HUD (Housing and Urban Development) funds were cut significantly, so we raised their funding significantly so the seniors wouldn't feel the difference."
Todisco said increased funding for recreation ($2,000 more than last year) is "to help a department that has seen cuts every year."
During the public hearing on the budget, Planning Board Member Bruce Paterson questioned a two-percent salary increase for recreation director Kathleen Pender. Paterson also said he didn't think that council should pay for the director's cell phone.
Councilman Keith Sluka responded to Paterson by explaining that the cell phone is essential because it also functions as the recreation hotline and is often the only way to reach the recreation director, and subsequently one's children, when she is out in different parks and buildings where recreation programs occur.
Paterson also questioned Councilman Louis Petruzzelli's health benefits, arguing that they are an expense for the borough as Petruzzelli is the only councilmember still receiving health benefits. (Last year, Gov. Christie passed legislation eliminating health benefits for council members in town's that are part of the state's healthcare plan. However, members serving before May 2010 were grandfathered into the benefit.)
"They cost the borough $24,000 this year. That's just wrong. I'd like to see him take the level down to at least $10,000," Paterson told Patch. Paterson is already working on a recall petition to remove Councilmen Petruzzelli and Mathieu from their seats.
"I'm not doing anything illegal and it's a benefit that other council members, including the mayor, have taken," Petruzzelli told Patch. Petruzzelli says Paterson has also left him threatening and harassing voicemail messages about this matter.
Councilman Jim Mathieu was the only councilmember to vote no on the budget, although he commended Councilwoman Todisco's work on creating it. "When we raise these taxes when have to remember that there are real people behind them that are struggling," said Mathieu. "We haven’t been reassessed in 30 years. I think we need to figure out ways to slow the rate of increase relative to Cranford and Westfield and make this a nice pocket between those two towns."
Mayor Quattrocchi and Councilman Sluka also acknowledged Todisco's work on the budget. "When I first appointed Councilwoman Todisco as finance chair, some people said she’s very young, she’s inexperienced, why are you making that decision and giving that person such an awesome responsibility," said Quattrocchi. "My answer to those people was that they elected her with the full faith that she could be a councilwoman and not a trainee. I’ve known her for a very long time and had a tremendous amount of confidence in her that she had the temperament and wherewithal to handle this. ... Overall it would be wonderful to not have an increase at all. Nobody would like that better than me, but there are some things that unfortunately cannot be helped."
Council also voted against establishing a cap bank. A cap bank would allow the council to bank the difference between its final appropriations and the amount it would have been able to spend up to the two-percent cap, allowing council to exceed appropriations if need be. The tie vote (Councilmembers Sluka, Hak and Mathieu voted no; Councilmembers Petruzzelli, DeFilippo and Todisco voted yes) was decided by Mayor Quattrocchi who voted against establishing a cap bank. Paterson had also urged council to vote against the cap bank.