Cuts are made to reduce Orange budget’s $7.1M deficit

Photo by Chris Sykes
From left, a member of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee addresses Orange at large Councilwoman Donna K. Williams during a break in City Council’s work session on Mayor Dwayne Warren’s Calendar Year 2018 proposed city budget in Council Chambers on Thursday, July 12. Council is scheduled to host a public hearing and vote on its revised Calendar Year 2018 budget at its next meeting in August.

ORANGE, NJ — The Orange City Council hosted a work session in Council Chambers on Thursday, July 12, to review Mayor Dwayne Warren’s proposed Calendar Year 2018 city budget.

City Council President Kerry Coley led the council through the budget page by page, proposing cuts or revisions to the funding requests from some city departments, including the Orange Public Library and certain programs and special events for senior citizens. It remains to be seen how much of a savings council can realize from a proposed budget that Warren administration officials admitted has a $7.1 million deficit, which city taxpayers fear could lead to an overall 9.8-percent tax increase, despite the state’s 6-percent cap on tax increases.

“I think we’re going to have to make some cuts here under programs and special events,” cautioned South Ward Councilwoman Jamie Summers-Johnson on Thursday, July 12. “Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to be able to do all these free programs that we’ve been doing. So we’re either going to need them to raise funds or charge, because I mean, for me, it only serves maybe 1 percent of my ward.”

At large Councilwoman Donna K. Williams asked which programs and events listed in the budget proposal had already occurred. Events which had already occurred included the Mother’s Day Fashion Show, Valentine’s Day, African-American History Month and several others, leaving a limited number of remaining events from which cuts could be made.

“Why is there money in there for town hall meetings?” asked North Ward Councilwoman Tency Eason at the meeting. “If we have them at City Hall, why is there an expense incurred?”

City Business Administrator Chris Hartwyk responded that the expenses related to town hall meetings are “probably for the food.” Eason had an easy answer to that revelation.

“Well then, we cut out the food,” said Eason. “People don’t need to be eating at a meeting. It’s maybe an hour. Why would you go and have food for that?”

Summers-Johnson agreed with Eason.

“I think that and I want to say that, when Councilwoman Wooten and I hosted the LGBTQ flag-raising, we told local businesses and they volunteered to give us the food,” Summers-Johnson said. “I just think that you don’t have to have food at every meeting, but I don’t think that we should be budgeting for food. I mean, they have $6,000 for the annual picnic. That’s going to happen already, right? That’s gonna happen in August, right?”

Hartwyk confirmed this for Summers-Johnson. The council members then agreed events such as this and the series of public information session meetings related to the city’s senior citizens, in particular, the upcoming Senior Christmas Party in December, did not need to be catered.

“When we were doing the Focal Point meetings, that was for the master plan, when the one was at the Elks,” said Eason. “That’s all finished.”

Hartwyk said the Focal Point meetings listed in the budget proposal were different from those Eason was referring to, adding that, when it comes to council deliberating over whether to cater city events and meetings, the governing body should employ a simple formula.

“Those Focal Point meetings were covered under a separate section of the budget for the master plan,” said Hartwyk on Thursday, July 12. “These are actually just geared toward seniors. I would just suggest that, instead of getting lost in the different types of events, focus on the number at the top, which is $19,100.”

The council followed Hartwyk’s advice and cut the Warren administration’s funding request for programs and special events, repeating this methodology throughout much of the work session, much to the satisfaction of some council members.

“Work session was very productive,” said West Ward Councilman Harold Johnson on Monday, July 16. “I think we have a sound document to present to the administration. Library was a challenge, as always. At the end of the day, we’ll have a budget that will get us through 2018.”

According to Joyce Lanier, the Orange city clerk, the next step in the council’s budget process is to approve the amendments made Thursday, July 12, at the governing body’s next meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 8, at 6 p.m.