WO to see 8.5-percent tax raise

Preliminary town budget calls for large tax increase to maintain services

Photo by Amanda Valentovic
Mayor Robert Parisi presents the preliminary municipal budget at the Township Council meeting on May 29.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Mayor Robert Parisi presented the 2019-2020 budget at the May 29 Township Council meeting, introducing the $85,780,920.31 budget to the council and public. The year will see a tax increase of 8.5 percent, the highest increase in 10 years. Parisi said the increase is due to the township’s tax levy cap bank expiring in 2019, meaning it will not be available in 2020, 2021 or 2022. The alternative would be to keep the 2-percent cap on this year’s budget but raise taxes approximately 12 percent next year, because the cap will no longer be available. The average taxpayer will pay approximately $297.50 per month, or $3,570 for the year.

“We’ve been able to put off obligations as long as we could and balance some things each year that kept us in a better position than we are now,” Parisi said at the meeting. “With a $6.9 million increase in costs that are not negotiable, we’re looking at an 8.5-percent increase. Even with that 8.5-percent proposed budget, we are still the second-lowest town in Essex County since 2008, in terms of municipal increases.”

If the township decided not to raise taxes by the proposed amount this year, Parisi said there would be no room for a capital budget, no added township positions, no filling open township positions and no expansion of services. There would be a reduction of services. It would eliminate $5 million in salary and wages, the equivalent of 70 part-time township positions and 55 full-time positions.

“It would mean eliminating eight police officers,” Parisi said. “It would eliminate seven firefighters, eight laborers, six dispatchers, five drivers, two inspectors, 19 administrative personnel and every one of the part-time positions and all our crossing guards. If the council wants to get to 2 percent, we’re looking at the loss of 130 positions in the township and then we have to question, ‘What services can we continue to provide the community with that loss of personnel?’”

Fire operations take up the bulk of the 2019-2020 budget, with the township spending 18.1 percent on running the department. Second are miscellaneous expenses, such as municipal health, environmental health, code enforcement, payroll, fire prevention, legal services, animal control and senior services; which will take up 18 percent of the budget. The police department expenses are broken down into different divisions that include patrol, criminal investigations, staff services, traffic and the community services unit. Patrol is the most expensive at 13.4 percent of the budget, the third most expensive line item in the overall budget.

“We’re recommending that we add two new police officers to the table of organization — not only fill open positions, but add two additional police officers,” Parisi said.

Parisi also discussed the town’s revenue, most of which is derived from taxes. Municipal taxes will take in $60,871,569.71, or 71 percent. No other revenue source brings in more than 17 percent, the amount of local revenue. The township receives $4,696,469 in state aid.

A breakdown of the budget was included in the presentation, which can be found on the township’s website. The town will be hiring a full-time planning and economic development consultant, two new police officers, a part-time senior livability coordinator and a tree climber. Five open firefighter positions will be filled, in addition to expanding traffic safety enforcement and assisting the West Orange School District in adding GPS technology to school buses. The council is also being asked to consider $50,000 in funding for the West Orange Public Library.

“Because the assessed value has increased, the library is getting additional funding this year anyway, but we’re asking the council to give them an additional $50,000 on top of that,” Parisi said.

Township parks and the township pool will be improved, a new sound system for the Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center will be purchased, and Luna Stage will receive township support.

Other improvements for the township in the budget include: new firearms for the police department, new police vehicles, refurbished ambulances, continuing firehouse renovations, updating the sound system in Town Hall’s Council Chambers and the installation of LED high-visibility street signs.

During the presentation, Parisi stressed the importance of redevelopment and increasing the tax base in town to bring in more money in the future, saying it is a way to bring in more tax dollars.

“We see the obligations we have and that those costs are going to increase every year, whether you add employees or not,” the mayor said. “If you’re not increasing your tax base, you’re eventually going to die. If we can’t find ways to redevelop old properties that aren’t viable and are not producing the tax revenue that they can, you see the tide change. If we don’t find ways to grow as a community, we’re eventually going to die.”

West Orange will hold a public budget hearing at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 8, and Sunday, June 9, in Council Chambers.