Ridgewood News

By Darius Amos

Following a healthy debate this week, the Ridgewood Council moved forward with a 2014 municipal spending plan that carries a zero percent average tax increase for all village property owners.

The $46.2 million budget was introduced by 3-2 vote Wednesday night and will be up for formal adoption at a May 28 Village Council meeting. If the plan is adopted, the municipal portion of the Ridgewood tax bill would total $3,959 – a sum based on the village’s average assessed home value of $688,358.

According to Village Manager Roberta Sonenfeld, the 2014 average tax bill is $5 less than the amount presented with last year’s budget. The 2013 municipal spending plan also offered a zero percent tax increase over the previous year.

Council members pushed forward the flat taxes plan after weighing it against a separate version that called for a 1 percent tax increase, or roughly $50 tacked on to annual bill. The alternative would have generated approximately $450,000 for the municipality.

Following a healthy debate this week, the Ridgewood Council moved forward with a 2014 municipal spending plan that carries a zero percent average tax increase for all village property owners.

The $46.2 million budget was introduced by 3-2 vote Wednesday night and will be up for formal adoption at a May 28 Village Council meeting. If the plan is adopted, the municipal portion of the Ridgewood tax bill would total $3,959 – a sum based on the village’s average assessed home value of $688,358.

According to Village Manager Roberta Sonenfeld, the 2014 average tax bill is $5 less than the amount presented with last year’s budget. The 2013 municipal spending plan also offered a zero percent tax increase over the previous year.

Council members pushed forward the flat taxes plan after weighing it against a separate version that called for a 1 percent tax increase, or roughly $50 tacked on to annual bill. The alternative would have generated approximately $450,000 for the municipality.

Following a healthy debate this week, the Ridgewood Council moved forward with a 2014 municipal spending plan that carries a zero percent average tax increase for all village property owners.

The $46.2 million budget was introduced by 3-2 vote Wednesday night and will be up for formal adoption at a May 28 Village Council meeting. If the plan is adopted, the municipal portion of the Ridgewood tax bill would total $3,959 – a sum based on the village’s average assessed home value of $688,358.

According to Village Manager Roberta Sonenfeld, the 2014 average tax bill is $5 less than the amount presented with last year’s budget. The 2013 municipal spending plan also offered a zero percent tax increase over the previous year.

Council members pushed forward the flat taxes plan after weighing it against a separate version that called for a 1 percent tax increase, or roughly $50 tacked on to annual bill. The alternative would have generated approximately $450,000 for the municipality.

“If we have the opportunity to again provide some relief, my view is we should absolutely do it,” said Mayor Paul Aronsohn. “Last year, we got zero [percent increase], and this year we’re hoping for zero. Prior to that, tax increases were significant. If you compound what the municipal tax increase was with the Board of Education tax increase and the county, and then the burdens that Ridgewood families are feeling generally, it adds up.”

The mayor added that “$50 might sound like a little bit, but every bit adds up. If we can provide relief, we should do it.”

In voting against this year’s proposed budget, Councilman Tom Riche said the village should not put off what it could do now until tomorrow. He picked up on several areas that he considered budgetary red flags, specifically the large amount of supplemental expenses and the spike in Ridgewood’s debt service.

Riche likened the debt service to a consumer credit card, saying the village’s “credit card payments for 2014 will go up from $3.9 million to $4.8 million” or a 21 percent increase “for principal and interest.”

“That’s a huge red flag,” he said. “A 1 percent tax increase, at a minimum, would pay down half of that debt service increase.”

“It’s good for the moment, a zero percent tax increase sounds good. Nobody wants to pay more taxes. I’m certainly willing to put $50 more out of my pocket for 2014 to not have my debt service increase by 21 percent,” Riche added.

According to Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh, a $50 annual household tax increase “would not be an extraordinary expense in my opinion” when it is compared with the school and county bills and if it guaranteed that municipal services to residents would not take a hit.

“With a zero percent [tax increase], we’re assuming no diminishment of the current services, which I felt were already diminished,” Walsh said.

Budget details

As she did in previous budget work sessions, Sonenfeld identified various driving factors that went into this year’s budget, including more than $6.1 million in required supplemental spending – expenses that did not appear in the 2013 plan. She highlighted an $835,000 increase in Ridgewood’s debt service, $365,000 for snow removal costs, and $40,000 for the upcoming review of the village’s finances.

The budget also includes supplemental spending that is not necessarily required, but are expenses that the village “should” take on, Sonenfeld said. Those items include $100,000 for new police vehicles, nearly $70,000 for Information Technology and Board of Adjustment support, an additional $40,000 for snow removal, and $15,000 to implement a new e-ticketing system.

Sonenfeld pointed out that the village’s contractual obligations, including salaries, pensions and health insurance, account for $26.84 million of the total budget, or 58.1 percent. That figure gave village management and department supervisors approximately $20 million of “wiggle room to work with.”

Ridgewood will inject approximately $2.9 million of its surplus into this year’s budget to get the tax increase to zero percent, Sonenfeld noted. The village’s remaining fund balance, which was a point of contention during last year’s discussions, will be roughly $1.4 million after 2014, a surplus that was larger than last year, she said, adding that the number will likely increase when anticipated federal reimbursements are received.

The plan won the support of the council majority, but Sonenfeld and members of the Financial Advisory Committee warned that future financial changes are imminent.

“We do not believe there is much low-hanging fruit in the budget. The village department heads and staff have carefully gone over the budget [for savings] line by line, and we applaud them for that,” said Nancy Johansen, chair of the FAC. “In order to maintain existing service levels without tax increases, we believe more fundamental changes will be required.”

Sonenfeld and Johansen both spoke of changes to the current collective bargaining agreements and the methods in which the village provides services. Ridgewood should explore more outsourcing and shared services with Bergen County and surrounding municipalities, they said.

“We cannot emphasize enough that the need to address longer term issues is essential,” Johansen said.

Sonenfeld said she and department supervisors are already reviewing various sore spots in services that residents have identified – snow removal, leaf pick-up and Christmas tree disposal – with hopes of implementing changes.

“There were a variety of reasons for the snow removal issues that we might have had last year … and I’m not sure that they were budget related,” Sonenfeld said. “We all agreed that we’re going to have a budget that did not diminish services, and that’s what we came up with.”

Email: amos@northjersey.com

- See more at: http://www.northjersey.com/news/ridgewood-municipal-budget-introduced-with-no-increase-in-taxes-1.1002605?page=all#sthash.B5s7wDKI.dpuf

The mayor added that “$50 might sound like a little bit, but every bit adds up. If we can provide relief, we should do it.”

In voting against this year’s proposed budget, Councilman Tom Riche said the village should not put off what it could do now until tomorrow. He picked up on several areas that he considered budgetary red flags, specifically the large amount of supplemental expenses and the spike in Ridgewood’s debt service.

Riche likened the debt service to a consumer credit card, saying the village’s “credit card payments for 2014 will go up from $3.9 million to $4.8 million” or a 21 percent increase “for principal and interest.”

“That’s a huge red flag,” he said. “A 1 percent tax increase, at a minimum, would pay down half of that debt service increase.”

“It’s good for the moment, a zero percent tax increase sounds good. Nobody wants to pay more taxes. I’m certainly willing to put $50 more out of my pocket for 2014 to not have my debt service increase by 21 percent,” Riche added.

According to Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh, a $50 annual household tax increase “would not be an extraordinary expense in my opinion” when it is compared with the school and county bills and if it guaranteed that municipal services to residents would not take a hit.

“With a zero percent [tax increase], we’re assuming no diminishment of the current services, which I felt were already diminished,” Walsh said.

Budget details

As she did in previous budget work sessions, Sonenfeld identified various driving factors that went into this year’s budget, including more than $6.1 million in required supplemental spending – expenses that did not appear in the 2013 plan. She highlighted an $835,000 increase in Ridgewood’s debt service, $365,000 for snow removal costs, and $40,000 for the upcoming review of the village’s finances.

The budget also includes supplemental spending that is not necessarily required, but are expenses that the village “should” take on, Sonenfeld said. Those items include $100,000 for new police vehicles, nearly $70,000 for Information Technology and Board of Adjustment support, an additional $40,000 for snow removal, and $15,000 to implement a new e-ticketing system.

Sonenfeld pointed out that the village’s contractual obligations, including salaries, pensions and health insurance, account for $26.84 million of the total budget, or 58.1 percent. That figure gave village management and department supervisors approximately $20 million of “wiggle room to work with.”

Ridgewood will inject approximately $2.9 million of its surplus into this year’s budget to get the tax increase to zero percent, Sonenfeld noted. The village’s remaining fund balance, which was a point of contention during last year’s discussions, will be roughly $1.4 million after 2014, a surplus that was larger than last year, she said, adding that the number will likely increase when anticipated federal reimbursements are received.

The plan won the support of the council majority, but Sonenfeld and members of the Financial Advisory Committee warned that future financial changes are imminent.

“We do not believe there is much low-hanging fruit in the budget. The village department heads and staff have carefully gone over the budget [for savings] line by line, and we applaud them for that,” said Nancy Johansen, chair of the FAC. “In order to maintain existing service levels without tax increases, we believe more fundamental changes will be required.”

Sonenfeld and Johansen both spoke of changes to the current collective bargaining agreements and the methods in which the village provides services. Ridgewood should explore more outsourcing and shared services with Bergen County and surrounding municipalities, they said.

“We cannot emphasize enough that the need to address longer term issues is essential,” Johansen said.

Sonenfeld said she and department supervisors are already reviewing various sore spots in services that residents have identified – snow removal, leaf pick-up and Christmas tree disposal – with hopes of implementing changes.

“There were a variety of reasons for the snow removal issues that we might have had last year … and I’m not sure that they were budget related,” Sonenfeld said. “We all agreed that we’re going to have a budget that did not diminish services, and that’s what we came up with.”

Email: amos@northjersey.com

- See more at: http://www.northjersey.com/news/ridgewood-municipal-budget-introduced-with-no-increase-in-taxes-1.1002605?page=all#sthash.B5s7wDKI.dpuf

The mayor added that “$50 might sound like a little bit, but every bit adds up. If we can provide relief, we should do it.”

In voting against this year’s proposed budget, Councilman Tom Riche said the village should not put off what it could do now until tomorrow. He picked up on several areas that he considered budgetary red flags, specifically the large amount of supplemental expenses and the spike in Ridgewood’s debt service.

Riche likened the debt service to a consumer credit card, saying the village’s “credit card payments for 2014 will go up from $3.9 million to $4.8 million” or a 21 percent increase “for principal and interest.”

“That’s a huge red flag,” he said. “A 1 percent tax increase, at a minimum, would pay down half of that debt service increase.”

“It’s good for the moment, a zero percent tax increase sounds good. Nobody wants to pay more taxes. I’m certainly willing to put $50 more out of my pocket for 2014 to not have my debt service increase by 21 percent,” Riche added.

According to Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh, a $50 annual household tax increase “would not be an extraordinary expense in my opinion” when it is compared with the school and county bills and if it guaranteed that municipal services to residents would not take a hit.

“With a zero percent [tax increase], we’re assuming no diminishment of the current services, which I felt were already diminished,” Walsh said.

Budget details

As she did in previous budget work sessions, Sonenfeld identified various driving factors that went into this year’s budget, including more than $6.1 million in required supplemental spending – expenses that did not appear in the 2013 plan. She highlighted an $835,000 increase in Ridgewood’s debt service, $365,000 for snow removal costs, and $40,000 for the upcoming review of the village’s finances.

The budget also includes supplemental spending that is not necessarily required, but are expenses that the village “should” take on, Sonenfeld said. Those items include $100,000 for new police vehicles, nearly $70,000 for Information Technology and Board of Adjustment support, an additional $40,000 for snow removal, and $15,000 to implement a new e-ticketing system.

Sonenfeld pointed out that the village’s contractual obligations, including salaries, pensions and health insurance, account for $26.84 million of the total budget, or 58.1 percent. That figure gave village management and department supervisors approximately $20 million of “wiggle room to work with.”

Ridgewood will inject approximately $2.9 million of its surplus into this year’s budget to get the tax increase to zero percent, Sonenfeld noted. The village’s remaining fund balance, which was a point of contention during last year’s discussions, will be roughly $1.4 million after 2014, a surplus that was larger than last year, she said, adding that the number will likely increase when anticipated federal reimbursements are received.

The plan won the support of the council majority, but Sonenfeld and members of the Financial Advisory Committee warned that future financial changes are imminent.

“We do not believe there is much low-hanging fruit in the budget. The village department heads and staff have carefully gone over the budget [for savings] line by line, and we applaud them for that,” said Nancy Johansen, chair of the FAC. “In order to maintain existing service levels without tax increases, we believe more fundamental changes will be required.”

Sonenfeld and Johansen both spoke of changes to the current collective bargaining agreements and the methods in which the village provides services. Ridgewood should explore more outsourcing and shared services with Bergen County and surrounding municipalities, they said.

“We cannot emphasize enough that the need to address longer term issues is essential,” Johansen said.

Sonenfeld said she and department supervisors are already reviewing various sore spots in services that residents have identified – snow removal, leaf pick-up and Christmas tree disposal – with hopes of implementing changes.

“There were a variety of reasons for the snow removal issues that we might have had last year … and I’m not sure that they were budget related,” Sonenfeld said. “We all agreed that we’re going to have a budget that did not diminish services, and that’s what we came up with.”

Email: amos@northjersey.com