EO Council continues city budget public hearings

Photo by Chris Sykes From left, East Orange 1st Ward Councilman Chris James, 4th Ward Councilman Casim Gomez and 5th Ward Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman review the line items contained in the Calendar Year 2016 City Budget on Monday, April 17, at the council's budget hearing in Council Chambers.
Photo by Chris Sykes
From left, East Orange 1st Ward Councilman Chris James, 4th Ward Councilman Casim Gomez and 5th Ward Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman review the line items contained in the Calendar Year 2016 City Budget on Monday, April 17, at the council’s budget hearing in Council Chambers.

EAST ORANGE, N.J. — The East Orange City Council held the second installment of a series of budget hearings Monday, April 18, in Council Chambers on the $138,194,520 budget for Calendar Year 2016 introduced by Mayor Lester Taylor last month.

Taylor introduced the budget at the council’s regular meeting on Monday, March 28. His first city budget in Calendar Year 2014 produced a one-time 4.25-percent tax increase that the East Orange City Council eventually reduced to 3 percent.

Taylor’s second budget in Calendar Year 2015 contained a 3.5 percent tax rate increase for the average household assessed at $175,000 that equates to an increase in annual taxes of $212.70 or $53.18 every quarter. The mayor’s third budget contains a 1.9-percent tax increase.

Taylor said three years of a decreasing tax increase was part of his master plan to fix East Orange’s finances and put the city’s fiscal house in order.

Third Ward Councilwoman Quilla Talmadge, chairwoman of the council’s finance committee, has presided over all budget hearings, and said the mere fact taxes were “getting lower shows that they are making progress.”

“Instead of it going up, it’s going down,” said Talmadge on Monday, March 28. “I’d like to see it come in at zero. But wages go up and health benefits go up and a whole lot of other stuff goes up, so sometimes you may have to have a slight increase. But I’m not looking to increase taxes. Everything goes up, but the mere fact that he can keep it under 2 percent, I think we can live with it.”

Talmadge and the rest of her council colleagues have been checking to make sure the tax increase in Taylor’s third budget is as small as possible, beginning with budget hearings, the first of which was Tuesday, April 12; hearings with city departments are scheduled through Wednesday, April 27.

“That schedule is subject to change, but the budget hearings are going well; they’re on schedule, in terms of the departments coming down and making their presentations to the council, and we are very involved with reviewing how the different departments are spending money,” said council Chairman Ted Green on Tuesday, April 19. “We’re trying to cut costs and expenses wherever we can, because our goal is to have a zero percent tax increase.

“One of the biggest challenges is the Water Commission. We know that, last year, we went through a small crisis with the emergency temporary rate increase. This year, we’re trying to make sure our residents, businesses and building owners don’t get hit like that again. All of our taxpayers need relief from high water rates.”

Green said the council’s goal is “to be fair across the board,” when it comes to this year’s budget and the council’s budget-review process. He and Talmadge said, “The council’s goal is no tax increase.”

“So we’re going to roll up our sleeves and make sure we do more with less,” said Green. “We had about eight departments come down already. We’re putting the residents of this city first. Everybody has been very engaged in the budget review process and hearings. It’s about us looking at everything we can, before we raise taxes in the city.”

Talmadge said it’s also about teamwork.

“We’re holding budget hearings for all of our budgets that were introduced earlier by the administration and we’re having them go through each line item to explain the budget to us,” said Talmadge on Monday, April 18. “And then we’ll be done and we’ll deliberate and we’ll try to see if there’s any way we can cut. If not, we will pass the budget. The council is looking to cut the budget at least by one point, if we can. The mayor introduced it at 1.9-percent tax increase and they’re hoping that we can bring it down a little bit. We’re trying to save the taxpayers some money, if we can. That one point will help a lot.”

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