West Orange Township Council unanimously approves 2021 municipal budget

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Township Council unanimously approved the 2021 municipal budget at its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14, passing a $93,781,833.66 budget with no tax increase. The tax rate will be 1.069 percent; the 2020 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 Chief Financial Officer John Gross said at a budget workshop meeting on Wednesday, May 26, when the budget was proposed. “The mayor felt that, since we were in a position to do that, we are.”

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. There is an anticipated surplus of $4,276,678.57, which is more than the 2020 budget surplus of $2,402,754.05. Of the collected taxes, $2,221,262.82 is for the minimum library tax. The rest is for municipal purposes.

The Police Department is the biggest line item in the budget, with a $13,316,649.80 total. The bulk of that money, $13,159,648, is allocated to salaries and wages for the department. The remaining $157,001.78 is for other expenses. The West Orange Fire Department’s total budget is $11,242,345.60; $11,068,575 is reserved for salaries and wages. Other expenses in the WOFD will cost $105,032.67. The Uniform Fire Safety Act budget is $57,937, and Emergency Management Services, which is run under the Fire Department, will cost $10,000.

In the Department of Public Works, salaries and wages for the public works division were the next most expensive, totaling $2,675,042. The DPW also includes the engineering division, building and property division, street services division, and the sewers and sanitation division. The total cost for the rest of the DPW in 2021 will be $2,760,063.09.

As Gross said at the May workshop, debt service in this year’s budget will increase to $8,153,829.01, from $7,436,579.29 in 2020. The amount is regulated by a state statute.

“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.”

State aid is expected to remain the same as it was in 2020, accounting for $4,696,469 of the town’s revenue in 2021. The surplus anticipated in revenue is $4,276,678.57, which is almost double the amount of the surplus from 2020, $2,402,754.05.

The budget was approved later in the year, due to the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to Gross at the meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14. The Citizens Budget Advisory Committee did review the budget but was not able to meet.

“This year has been a challenge,” he said. “We’ve taken this long because of COVID. It’s given everybody time to look at it, but it has certainly been an issue that we’ve had to grapple with for this year’s budget.”