EAST ORANGE, NJ — With the conclusion of the final installment of public budget meetings on Wednesday, April 27, 3rd Ward Councilwoman and Council Budget Committee Chairwoman Quilla Talmadge could barely conceal her pleasure that the process was moving right along.
“The hearings went good,” said Talmadge on Tuesday, May 17. “After the hearings, we sent the revised budget back to the administration and we met with them to see if there was anything more that we could do. We brought the tax rate down a couple of points, working with the administration.”
East Orange City Council held the final installment of their public budget hearings on the $138,194,520 Calendar Year 2016 City Budget on Monday, April 18, only nine days after Mayor Lester Taylor introduced it.
Talmadge said the next step in getting the budget approved is to send it to Trenton for review by the state Division of Local Government Services. If approved, the revised budget will then be sent back to East Orange for final submission to the council, which will then vote to approve it.
“They’re in the process of sending it down to Trenton and, hopefully, we’ll adopt it by May 31,” Talmadge said. “We’re looking to call a special meeting on May 31 for adoption. I think we were able to work together to get the projected tax increase down from 1.9 percent to 1.4 percent. But we have to wait to hear back from Trenton to see if it gets approved. But it looks good.”
City Council Chairman Ted Green, who represents the 3rd Ward with Talmadge, could not be reached for comment about the budget hearings by press time this week, but had already made similar comments last month.
“The council’s goal is no tax increase,” said Green on Tuesday, April 19, at the start of the budget hearings. “We are very involved with reviewing how the different departments are spending money. We’re trying to cut costs and expenses, wherever we can, because our goal is to have a zero-percent tax increase.”
Green said recent issues with the East Orange Water Commission, including the emergency temporary rate increase last year, proved the biggest challenges but he vowed the council would work hand-in-hand with the EOWC and Water Department.
“We know that, last year, we went through a small crisis with the emergency temporary rate increase,” said Green. “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. Our goal is to be fair across the board, when it comes to the CY 2016 budget and the council’s budget review process through the budget hearings.”
The mayor introduced the budget at the March 28 council meeting; it is his third city budget since he was sworn into office in January 2014.
Taylor’s first city budget, in Calendar Year 2014, produced a one-time 4.25-percent tax increase that the City Council eventually reduced to 3 percent. His 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.”
In 2016, Taylor’s third budget contained a 1.9-percent tax increase when introduced to City Council. Since then, Talmadge said council did their due diligence and managed to reduce that increase to 1.5 percent.
Taylor could not be reached for comment about the conclusion of council’s budget hearings or the revised Calendar Year 2016 city budget by press time this week; however, the mayor has gone on the record as stating that his overall plan to stabilize and improve the city’s finance and fiscal management is going smoothly. He said gradually reducing taxes across a three- year period was part of his master plan to repair East Orange’s finances and get the city’s fiscal house in order.
“After two years of developing and implementing creative and innovative solutions to address years of fiscal mismanagement, there is no doubt that we are getting closer to our end goal: the stabilization of taxes that the residents of East Orange deserve,” said Taylor on Monday, March 28. “In order to continue our progress, we ask for the cooperation and continued support from the members of City Council, all of our hardworking employees and all of the residents and stakeholders of our great city.”