Berkeley Heights Seniors Question Budget Allocation; Committee Adopts 2012 Budget
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 • 9:24am
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Several senior citizens were at the Township Council’s Tuesday, May 22 meeting to complain about what they thought were cuts to the money budgeted for the Senior Citizens Club in the 2012 municipal budget. The allocation for seniors was removed as a separate line item in the budget and incorporated into the Recreation Department grouping.
“Our seniors feel we are being discriminated against,” said Regina Haague, president of the club. She said bus service has been reduced and seniors now have to bring their own paper products if they are having a function at the municipal building.
Mayor Joseph Bruno explained that the amount allotted to senior recreation was actually increased from $9,000 to $11,000 in the 2012 budget, and when considering the cost of the bus, the driver’s salary, pension and benefits, gas and bus maintenance, the figure for seniors is really closer to $100,000.
He said the bus driver is a union employee and there are rules that have to be followed. For instance, the driver has regular hours and cannot be forced to work for nighttime activities – such as attending the Township Council meeting. If the driver consents to work, he will have to be paid a minimum of four hours at overtime wages.
Council President Kevin Hall said there are “legal and financial reasons” the township cannot continue to provide paper goods for senior events as it has in the past. This was a recent discovery about what a government agency can contribute to a 501(c)3 non-profit.
Haague mentioned two grants the seniors had received – one for $100,000 and another for $50,000. She asked where the money went.
Bruno responded he believed it was still in the treasury with the exception of some money expended on architectural drawings for a senior center
The mayor will be meeting with seniors on Tuesday, May 29 and said he will bring an accounting with him.
The budget was adopted unanimously at the same meeting. The total budget is $16,933,763 up $733,475 from 2011. The amount to be raised by taxes, including the library tax, is $11,867,458, which makes the tax rate 66.7 cents per $100 of assessed value. For a house assessed at the average value of $307,400, the tax including the library would be $2,050 or about $40 more than last year.
Township Administrator Amey Upchurch gave a short presentation on the budget.
Appropriations by department are: Public Safety including police, fire, fire prevention and crossing guards $3.4 million or 50 percent; Engineering including engineering, the Department of Public Works, vehicle maintenance, streets and roads and the construction code $1.427 million or 21 percent; General Government including the mayor and council, administration and the clerk’s office $377,598 or about six percent; Finance including finance administration, tax collection and the tax assessor $399,659 also about six percent; Parks and Recreation including recreation administration, parks maintenance, and senior programs and the bus driver $307,126 or four percent; and Sewer including facility personnel $901,760 or 13 percent.
Stan Prater, area manager for JCP&L visited the council to talk about improvements being made at the utility since Hurricane Irene and the October snow storm.
He said there is a full-time website at www.firstenergycorp.com that has color coded “Google-type” maps that residents and officials to can go to to discover specifically where there are power outages, how many there are and the estimated time for restoration of power. The maps are smart phone compatible.
Internally, he said the company has added “improved storm processes” and is doing storm drills that the Board of Public Utilities is reviewing to offer advice. It is also trying to be more efficient.
He said JCP&L expects to do tree trimming in Berkeley Heights in the near future. The mayor and township administrator will be notified, as will residents who will be impacted.
“If there is a problem with a privately owned tree we will meet with the resident,” he said.
He added JCP&L is supporting the township’s summer movie night series.
Memorial Day Parade
Bruno encouraged all residents to get out and watch the Memorial Day parade that will step off from the VFW Hall on Monday, May 28 at 9:30 a.m.
“We don’t spend enough time thanking our veterans,” he said. “To say thank you on one day isn’t really enough.”