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Vol. LXII, No. 53
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
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Borough Debates Scaling Back Services to Reduce Cost of Budget for 2009

Dilshanie Perera

Prospects for making up the projected shortfall in the 2009 budget without raising taxes or finding extra sources of revenue looked grim during last Tuesday’s Borough Council meeting.

Earlier this month, the Borough’s Finance Committee had recommended that Council not increase salaries or taxes in 2009, which Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi calculated would leave a $1.3 million gap. After the identification of possible cuts to the budget that would include staffing reductions, the shortfall was estimated at $510,000. Recent news, however, revealed that the Borough would be losing state revenue because of a hotel tax overpayment in the previous year, according to Mr. Bruschi, who added that the “real issue is not so much expenditures, which we can control” but “revenues.” The loss of the hotel tax revenue, he said, adds to the shortfall, which is now $890,000.

Reporting that administration had already met with the bargaining units, Mr. Bruschi mentioned that they were reluctant to renegotiate any existing agreements. He also presented other possible remedies for reducing expenditures that could include cutting additional staff positions in the police, administration, and public works departments, either by attrition or through layoffs.

Suggesting that Council meet with the Township to fully discuss joint agency budgets, Mr. Bruschi proposed the elimination of or reduction of funding for a few commissions. He warned Council that a delicate balance would have to be struck regarding “cutting services that people are accustomed to having,” and increasing taxes.

Members of the Human Services Commission (HSC), a joint agency that provides services to youth and seniors, including the Crosstown 62 transportation service, and in the areas of civil rights and welfare, asked Council to allow the commission to continue providing services. In a previous presentation about the 2009 budget, Mr. Bruschi had suggested that outsourcing certain services to the County or State levels could alleviate some of the pressure on the Borough.

HSC Executive Director Cynthia Mendez said that shifting around the centralized service provision to other municipal levels would diminish the quality of those services and make it more difficult for residents to obtain assistance or to benefit from certain programs.

Princeton High School student Alex Moise spoke of his positive experience at the Human Services-sponsored summer youth employment program, adding that “if it wasn’t for Human Services, I’d probably be on the couch playing video games.”

Addressing Borough Council, Mr. Bruschi suggested that if service transfers “are concepts you want to explore, it really needs to be done by the political powers that be,” adding that “it’s not an administrator’s job; it’s more a policy decision.”

Mayor Mildred Trotman said that despite the difficult economic times, and the fact that nothing is “off the table” for scaling back, “I have a problem with just doing away with a department which by its very nature has a history of helping the vulnerable.”

“What we’re looking at is an agency that is not central to government’s function,” Mr. Goldfarb said, adding that “other organizations in the community should be looked at as providers.” He suggested that “we don’t have to do everything here.”

Human Services Board Member Claire Jacobus remarked that “the largest question is whether this community really wants to abandon the poorest among us.”

Council members Margaret Karcher, Barbara Trelstad, Kevin Wilkes, and Ms. Jacobus and Ms. Mendez will hold a special meeting to discuss the viability of the current Human Services Commission further before any final decisions are made.

Mr. Bruschi noted that once the year-end revenues have been tabulated, the Borough would know the amount of available surplus, making possible a more thorough budgetary discussion in mid-January.

Borough resident Mark Alexandridis recommended that the Borough consider larger budget items, like the “reconciliation of the lost payments with the Township,” and reducing the size of the police force. “Sometimes you need to make a few hard decisions instead of diluting everything,” he said.

Council approved a new contract that reduces garbage collection to once a week. This change, along with offering a benefit buyout option for employees, will save the Borough $175,000 in the upcoming year, according to Mr. Bruschi.

The conversation about the 2009 budget will continue in January.

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