EO Council passes 2016 budget … with some reservations

EAST ORANGE, NJ — Although East Orange City Council approved the revised $138,194,520 Calendar Year 2016 city budget, with a 1.46-percent tax increase, at their regular meeting on Monday, June 6, some council members expressed reservations about certain aspects of it.

“Within that budget there are some increases for employees; I was in favor of the budget, however I was not in favor of the increases,” said 5th Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman, who is chairwoman of council’s Public Safety Committee and also serves on the Finance and Negotiating committees, on Saturday, June 6. “I want to cut the amount of increases for raises to directors and nonunionized employees in half. That was about the only thing that I wasn’t happy with that was in the budget. But, as per our mayor, we had a conversation that there will be no raises given out in this budget year.”

Holman said the pay raises she questioned related to “Schedule C” city employees. She said Taylor assured her the salary increases for those employees would not occur in the Calendar Year 2016 budget.

“Some of the increases were astronomical. I’m in favor of the budget, but I was not in favor of the raises,” said Holman on Saturday, June 18. “Schedule C is for all nonunionized workers. So anyone who does not belong to a union would fall into that category, which is mostly directors and some special titles that are in the city. Everyone else is unionized.”

Holman said she “just wanted to be clear” that the raises reflected in the Calendar Year 2016 budget “are not supposed to be moved.” She said she would have preferred to cut the raises from the budget entirely, but relented after receiving assurances from the Taylor administration the salary increases would not be paid out in 2016.

“I’m taking the administration at their word that will not happen,” said Holman. “I’m in favor of raises, just as I am for the unionized employees, but there has to be a limit. I’m not going to be in favor of an astronomical raise, where your unionized workers are on percentagewise and then you’re going to give someone a raise that I don’t even want to put the dollar amount out there. But it was just too astronomical. An incremental increase, yes. But it was just too astronomical.”

City Council Chairman Ted Green also said he voted to approve the budget, but wants to set the record straight about his reasons for doing so.

“We worked very hard on the budget this year. We started off at a 1.49-percent tax increase and then we cut it all the way down to 1.4 percent. As the chairman working in conjunction with my fellow council members, we felt that we were at a critical time in the budget. We cut it to the bare bone. We cut it almost $304,000, when we went back for the second time,” said Green on Saturday, June 18.

Green said council did its duty and due diligence with regard to the budget. He said the council has a responsibility to pass a budget on time, which means compromising on specific aspects of it, when necessary.

“It’s our budget, once the administration gives it to us,” said Green. “I’m not saying this is the best budget in the world, but it was the best, at the moment, of making sure that we deliver on a budget. There’s never a good time, when it comes to a budget, because we never want to affect any resident or tenant in our community. We’re always looking for ways to have a zero-tax increase.”

According to Green, Holman and other council members, the 1.46-percent tax levy increase in city budget is a reduction from the 1.9-percent it contained when Mayor Lester Taylor introduced it to the council at their regular meeting Monday, March 28. Taylor said the increase is “well within the state’s 2-percent cap on tax increases.”

Taylor also said the increase is the lowest since he was sworn into office in 2014. And for the first time in recent history, Taylor said, the East Orange Water Commission will not be financially supported by the city’s budget.

“East Orange is saving $1 million and that will help further stabilize the city’s fiscal footing,” said Taylor on Friday, June 10. “Without a doubt, this 2016 budget demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that our government continues to work as effectively and efficiently as possible. Over the past two years, we have worked hard to balance our budget with reduced spending and increased investment in our community.”

Taylor thanked Green, Holman, 3rd Ward Councilwoman and council Finance Committee Chairwoman Quilla Talmadge and the rest of the East Orange City Council members for “representing the best interests of our residents.” He said he was proud of the good working relationship between his administration and the city’s governing body and the positive results taxpayers are reaping as a result.

“By aggressively addressing the issues of our water commission, we are now able to move forward on stalled development projects, which will help increase the share of property taxes paid by businesses and commercial properties,” said Taylor. “In one year’s time, we’ve doubled private capital investment to over $250 million in upcoming projects that represent the construction of commercial and residential properties in every ward of the city. We’ve invested in our own assets, like the East Orange Golf Course and the East Orange Water Commission, ensuring that those valuable resources are making money, instead of losing it.”

A copy of the budget can be viewed on the city’s website at www.eastorange-nj.gov.