TC approves budget, raises taxes by 2 percent

Photo by Amanda Valentovic
The West Orange Township Council meets June 12.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Township Council approved the 2018 municipal budget of $83,225,484 at its June 12 meeting with a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Joe Krakoviak casting the only opposing vote. Under this budget, taxes will be raised by 2 percent, an increase of $5 per month for the average West Orange taxpayer, who will pay $274 per month total, according to Chief Financial Officer John Gross. Council members debated how to find a balance between priorities and amenities, a topic that several residents also weighed in on.

“Our Green West Orange stands in support of residents who ask that you vote ‘no’ on this proposed budget,” Loren Svetvilas, a resident representing activist group Our Green West Orange, said at the meeting. “Have the mayor present a new streamlined and trimmed budget that fits this town’s true budgetary, recreation and services needs. Might I add that you put the ice bumper cars on ice and refer the high school repairs to a referendum?”

Svetvilas was referring to the $110,000 budgeted for an ice bumper car venue in O’Connor Park, about which other residents also commented.

“I can say that people are laughing about these silly bumper cars,” resident Sally Malanga said. “At $100,000, who knows if that could balloon up to a million in maintenance, worries, insurance and management problems. I don’t feel like it’s the town’s responsibility to provide a carnival.”

Mayor Robert Parisi recommended the budget for the ice bumper cars, after seeing how successful the activity has been in Rhode Island. He was at the June 12 meeting to defend the budget.

“I am a big believer in recreational activities,” Parisi said. “Bringing in the ice bumper cars is a great opportunity for community engagement in the winter. It brings the community and families together. It’s a good way to go out and enjoy some winter fun. Amenities such as this are important for our community.”

Councilman Joe Krakoviak asked why the ice bumper cars are in the budget when the town set aside between $600,000 and $700,000 for renovations to the town’s firehouses that will be completed over time.

“My position on budgeting from being a councilman to mayor is always balance,” Parisi said. “There’s always the need to fix the leaky roof, and there’s also a need to provide amenities to the community that make living here enjoyable, make people feel a part of the community and try to encourage community spirit.”

Another aspect of the budget that came up during the discussion was the township sharing services with the West Orange School District, and contributing to putting new turf on the field at Suriano Stadium behind West Orange High School. Residents said the district should pay for renovations, or have the public vote in a referendum.

Councilwoman Michelle Casalino objected to those comments, saying that West Orange has a good relationship with its school district.

“Most municipalities wouldn’t have the great relationship that our school board has with our township,” she said at the meeting. “For years we have been working together on these field improvements.”

Casalino said towns in the surrounding area, like Verona and Livingston, have separate municipal recreation fields, while West Orange does not — requiring municipal programs to use Suriano Stadium.

“We are lucky enough to have a great relationship with the school board,” she said. “We can’t get done what we get done here if we don’t work together and have these relationships.”

Councilman Victor Cirilo echoed Casalino’s position on sharing services with the school district.

“More than 50 percent of the users of that field are municipal,” he said at the meeting. “As we know, 25 cents of our tax dollars go to our municipal services. I think we’re doing pretty decent with respect to how those 25 cents are being reinvested and spent. Sixty-five percent of our tax dollars are going to our public schools. If we can in some way by using their field assist in making sure the quality of our properties are maintained, let’s try to help from a municipal perspective.”

Of the total budget, $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 constitutes a $3,518,164 increase from the 2017 municipal budget.

“This will raise our tax levy, the maximum allowed by the state, for the fourth year in a row,” Krakoviak said as one reason he opposed the budget. “I think it’s unnecessary.”