SO budget presented at BOT meeting

South Orange village administrator Adam Loehner presents the 2021 municipal budget at the Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, March 22.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The 2021 municipal budget of $38,476,326.09 was presented at the South Orange Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, March 22. There will be a 3.6 percent tax increase this year, a 0.9 percent increase over last year’s tax levy.

The South Orange Police Department is the biggest line item in the budget, at a cost of $6,173,600 for salaries and wages. Operating expenses for the SOPD will be $698,050. The South Orange Fire Department is the second most expensive line item for the village, with $3,979,400 for salaries and wages, and $235,650 for operating expenses. The Department of Public Works budget is $1,831,175 for salaries and wages, and $1,187,400 for operating expenses.

The library’s budget will be $945,600. Salaries and wages for the Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs will be $838,000, while operating expenses will be $530,350.

“Police salaries are changing because what we’re trying to do is reduce overtime,” village administrator Adam Loehner said at the meeting. “But we have increased the staffing. Those numbers will go up as the young officers progress in their careers.”

According to the presentation, there will be an anticipated $1,830,000 surplus in the 2021 budget. Other revenue includes $79,000 from fees and permits, $600,000 in fines and court costs, $660,000 in recreation fees and $800,000 in uniform construction fees.

State and federal grants will bring $100,671.89 to South Orange.
“We’re not expecting as much for next year,” Loehner said about grant revenue. “If we do get them, they’ll be filed after the fact.”

The largest revenue stream for the village will be from Payments in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOTs, which will bring in $2,600,000.

The largest share of revenue, at 40 percent, is spent on police and fire. The next largest share is debt service and capital projects, which is 15 percent of the budget. Administrative costs, public works, recreation, the library, insurance, sewers, utilities, street lighting, courts, buildings and codes, and a reserve for uncollected taxes all make up 10 percent or less of the total budget.

The budget features $2,995,184 in capital improvements, including roads, curbs and sidewalks on Grove Road, Randolph Place, Stone Hill Road, Connett Place, Kingman Road, West Montrose Avenue and West Fairview Avenue. An emergency generator for the Public Works Yard will be purchased, and there will be sidewalk improvements downtown and a feasibility study for Cameron Park. The capital project budget also includes a waste management plan.

“The waste management plan is part of the work that we’re trying to do with our recycling facility and more of an overarching plan on what we can do with our waste in the future and how we can do it better,” Loehner said.

According to the presentation, village offices are beginning to return to normal as the COVID-19 pandemic slowly ends, and revenue and appropriations costs are getting closer to 2019 amounts. Staffing levels are growing as vacancies in town are filled, and the two-year salary freeze has been reduced to one year.

“What we’ve been able to do with our responsible budgeting last year and the funding that we’re receiving from the county, as well as the federal government, (is) we’ve now reduced that two-year salary freeze to one year,” Loehner said.

In the future, the village wants to both reduce its dependency on surplus balance as revenue and increase the surplus balance. There are five redevelopment projects in South Orange, which will help budgets in the future. The South Orange Fire Department is scheduled to be merged with the Maplewood Fire Department this year, which will create savings in future budgets as well. Loehner said the village is always interested in considering sharing services with surrounding towns.

“There are always opportunities, and we’re always looking for more,” he said. “If any others come up, we always try to maximize those opportunities.”