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No Property Tax Increase in Madison Council's Proposed 2014 Budget

Liz Keill

Monday, March 10, 2014 • 11:36pm

MADISON, NJ - Property taxes will not go up for Madison residents if the proposed 2014 municipal budget is adopted at the March 24 hearing.

The Borough Council voted, 4-1, to introduce the budget at its meeting Monday night. “The strength of the budget is that we will not increase taxes with no reduction in staff or services,” Finance Chairman Ben Wolkowitz said.  In fact, the budget allows for the hiring three hires in the Police Department and two hires for the Department of Public Works. The net property tax decrease would be 1.32 percent, based of $35.39 for the average home, with a home value of $667,218.

“We’ll use a hefty amount of surplus for capital improvements,” Wolkowitz said. Some of the surplus would to toward road repairs and infrastructure. These areas, he said, are long overdue.  Wolkowitz once again suggested that $100,000 from the electric utility be used to help offer relief to senior citizens.

Wolkowitz acknowledged that electric rates should be reduced, but should be reviewed by the Strategic Planning Committee during the coming year.

Councilmen Robert Catalanello raised objections to the proposed budget. He shared a letter he and Councilman Patrick Rowe had written to the Madison Eagle saying the borough should not draw down the surplus. “We have a lot of common ground and there is a need for capital expenditures,” he said. But he said not all of those improvements need to be done this year. “We should limit ourselves when times are good and table the introduction of this budget.”

Councilman Robert Landrigan said the electric surplus should be spent to improve the town. He added that residents have some control over their use of electricity, such as running air conditioners in the summer months. “I support this budget 100 percent. It’s prudent and the residents want the work done on the on the streets.”  

Councilwoman Carmela Vitale said, “I listen to the residents very carefully.  They have huge concerns about roads and we have numerous infrastructure problems.” Vitale said that Sustainable Madison and the Environmental Commission have emphasized that “each of us has a responsibility” for conservation of utilities. She referred to the history of Madison, dating from 1890 for its own water and electric utility. “There were great decisions over the years for municipal ownership and it made us almost independent of banks for borrowing.”  She also agreed with Wolkowitz on helping senior citizens who “made this town what it is today.” Vitale said the electric rates remain competitive and provide service and dependability. In addition, she said, Madison taxes are lower than most surrounding communities.

Councilwoman Astrid Baillie said she supports the tax cut and maintaining the electric rates for now. She noted $3.5 million is being allocated for capital projects, including road construction. She also addressed the letter from Catalanello and Rowe, who had suggested delaying certain projects. But those items need to be done now, she said. She objected to the idea that “we are using surplus yet unrealized.” Baillie said the surplus accounts have $5.7 million remaining in the banks, plus a surplus from last year. She observed that Standard & Poor's has given Madison a rating of AAA.

“A zero-percent tax rate is a beautiful thing,” she said, paraphrasing resident Sam Cerciello.

Mayor Robert Conley commended the council for presenting challenging view in a positive way.  

In other matters, the council approved an ordinance to establish a CAP bank for 2014 and an emergency boiler replacement for the DPW garage at $16,000.

Proclamations were presented for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Welcoming the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games to New Jersey and Madison Young Playwrights Month at Playwrights Theatre. 

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