Maplewood TC tables tardy town budget again

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — At its July 19 meeting, the Maplewood Township Committee again tabled a final vote on its 2022 municipal budget, this time until August. The reason for delaying the already tardy adoption of a spending plan that includes tax hikes for residents: The state has yet to give its approval, a necessary step.

In a presentation to the committee, Maplewood Chief Financial Officer Joseph Kolodziej said the lack of state approval, as well as unforeseen shortfalls caused by an increase in fire department overtime requests, has left the township with no choice but to table the adoption of the budget until a later meeting. The original draft of the budget was ready back in April. 

“What’s really the elephant in the room is that we’re adopting a budget and it’s July already,” Kolodziej said. “Until we get the state to approve us, we cannot adopt. That is embarrassingly the reason why we are so tardy on adopting a budget this year.”

According to the CFO, the state has not approved the budget yet due to some questions regarding revenue.

“The issue that we’re now dealing with is defending our budget to the state, who has been questioning some of our revenue sources, like the cannabis transfer fee that we added in,” he said. “Until we can get the state to approve us, we will not be able to adopt.”

The budget, as it is currently proposed, is for $53,113,086. Of that sum, salaries for township workers make up the largest share, about $23 million, followed by statutory expenditures and pension costs. Utilities and other miscellaneous expenses make up the smallest share. 

The new spending plan also includes a property tax increase of 5.44 percent from last year. According to the outline provided by Kolodziej, the average household in Maplewood will see an increase of $240.72. 

According to Kolodziej’s presentation, the township wants to implement crisis intervention social workers, who would respond to mental health emergencies in town. Additionally, the township wants to restore certain services, such as recreation programs, jitney routes and services for senior citizens. 

One of the biggest aims of the new budget is infrastructure investment. The township wants to aggressively address infrastructure needs, such as stormwater management and road resurfacing, which could abate flooding concerns in the area. Such concerns manifested after the remnants of Hurricane Ida ravaged the area last year. 

“This is a rather ambitious goal despite the challenges that we face this year,” Kolodziej said. 

One ongoing challenge, according to Kolodziej, has been the underfunding of the township by state aid. Kolodziej said the township has been shorted nearly $2 million over a 10-year period through energy receipts tax relief. The new state budget, passed earlier this month, also fails to meet what Kolodziej said was the need of the township, providing only about $95,000. 

“If the state actually gave us what we were supposed to get, we’d be looking at a zero tax increase this year,” Kolodziej said. 

The township committee seemed eager to get the budget adopted. Deputy Mayor Victor DeLuca was dismayed by the lack of efficient progress made with the budget.

“We may have tabled it, but we’ve never not had a budget this late in the year,” DeLuca said. “This is very embarrassing.”

Maplewood isn’t alone in its tardiness, however; Essex County currently has eight towns without budgets in place, according to Kolodziej. He said the next meeting will be the one where, perhaps more out of necessity than anything else, Maplewood adopts its budget. Otherwise, the state will likely step in to finish and finalize the budget.

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