Gross discusses 2018 municipal budget

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Chief Financial Officer John Gross presented the proposed 2018 municipal budget at the May 22 West Orange Township Council meeting, giving council members and residents a better understanding of how much money the township will be spending during the coming year. The total budget is $83,225,484. Of that total, $52,061,359.66 will be spent on personnel, $19,878,388.18 will be spent on fixed costs and other expenses will cost $9,534,470.66. The town will take in $1,751,265.50 in grants. The total budget is a $3,518,164 increase from the 2017 municipal budget.

“What that means, in terms of percentages, is total personnel costs are up 2 percent, total fixed costs are up 4 percent, grants are up 345 percent and all other expenses are up 2 percent,” Gross said at the meeting. “We had a really good year in grants this year and that’s one of the reasons that you see the overall budget is up about 4.4 percent. That seems high, but when you take into consideration such a large increase in grants, it really skews that number. The 4.4 is really closer to a little more than 2 percent.”

About 63 percent of the total budget is put toward township employees, according to Gross. There are currently 306 full-time employees in West Orange, decreased from the high of 375 in 2006.

“We’ve trimmed our staff down over the past 10 years significantly, saving money for the taxpayer,” Gross said. “If that hadn’t occurred, we’d be having a much different discussion here today. The cost of benefits has shifted so dramatically that health care, instead of being 11 percent of the budget in 2002, is now 18 percent. As the cost of benefits have really skyrocketed over time, we find they take up a much larger share.”

Gross said that 80 percent of the taxes in West Orange come from residential properties, and those taxes go toward the town’s services, as well as the paid fire department.

“We’re expecting a 2-percent increase and that locks in a 10-year average for the township of 1.1 percent annually, which is a remarkable number when you think about a 10-year period that we’ve been able to maintain a relatively stable tax rate,” he said. “The average taxpayer in West Orange will pay $274 per month in municipal taxes.”

Gross also said the budget compares favorably to those in the rest of the state — only 24 municipalities out of the 565 in New Jersey are paying less in taxes — and the increases have stayed steady at approximately 1.1 percent during the last 10 years.

According to Gross, 33 percent of the taxes collected in West Orange will fund the police department, 25 percent will cover the cost of the fire department, 14 percent is for health services and 28 percent will go toward other quality-of-life services.

“It’s tremendous value that you get from your municipal tax dollars,” Gross said.

The 2018 budget will also introduce new items to West Orange. Gross said employees will receive customer service training, the township’s website will be redesigned and online payment will become possible. The township will also look to join the county’s energy-aggregation group, obtain a new phone system, increase library funding and continue with the participatory budgeting process.

A public hearing will be held at the council’s next meeting, which is set for June 12.