West Orange Township Council discusses budget with zero tax increase

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The 2021 municipal budget has not yet been formally introduced to the West Orange Township Council, but the council held a public budget workshop on May 26 to discuss Mayor Robert Parisi’s proposed budget, in advance of the final proposal at a council meeting this summer. The proposed total budget is $93,988,482.56, with no tax increase; 2020’s municipal budget included a tax increase of 1.76 percent.

“The budget this year is recommending no increase in taxes, recognizing the economics that everyone has experienced over the past 15 months with the COVID crisis,” West Orange CFO John Gross said at the May 26 meeting. “The mayor felt that since we were in a position to do that, we are.”

According to Gross, no tax increase this year will have ramifications in the future. The town has about $8 million in surplus; $5,040,534.31 will be used in this year’s budget to make up for the loss in tax revenue.

“The mayor felt that it was important this year to get some type of relief to the taxpayers,” he said. 

The amount in taxes expected to be brought in, despite the lack of an increase, is $61,815,549.39. In 2020, the tax revenue totaled $58,821,215.97.

West Orange Police Department and West Orange Fire Department line items are a large portion of the overall budget; the WOPD’s total budget is $13,159,648. It is an increase from the 2020 budget, which was $11,184,866.59. Salaries are the largest line item for the WOPD; uniformed employees will collectively make $8,998,685, and non-uniformed employees will collectively make $255,588. The recommended budget for dispatchers is $418,104.

“All the salary and wages are contractual and legal obligations based on current staffing,” Gross said. “Any openings that we have are budgeted for.”

WOPD Chief James Abbott said 12 new police officers were recently hired in the department; nine came from the Essex County Police Academy, two were already officers in other towns, and one came from the Morris Police Academy. In addition, one detective left WOPD for another department, and a lieutenant is retiring on July 1. Replacements for the detective and lieutenant have already been found.

“Those two prospective employees are in the pipeline; they’ll start July 7,” Abbott said at the meeting.

Salaries for the WOFD total $8,989,181 in the proposed budget for uniformed employees, and $142,629 for non-uniformed employees. It is an increase from 2020’s $8,401,646.09 budget for the fire department.

Debt service in the 2021 budget is increased to $804,000 for the year. According to Gross, the amount is regulated by state statute and is what the town is required to pay.

“That number is always a moving target in the sense that it might change in the next two months because of the way deals are structured, and, because of premiums, it might impact what we have to pay this year,” he said. “But it won’t impact taxes, because it is always an offset revenue. This may not be the last figure you see for debt service because of what we’re doing over the next two months. But the impact it has on the tax rate will not change.”