Ho-Ho-Kus July 22, 2009 THE VILLADOM TIMES III • Page 9 Budget approved; councilman votes against plan by Jennifer Crusco The Ho-Ho-Kus Council last week approved the 2009 municipal purpose, solid waste, and water utility budgets at a special morning session. Council members also adopted three riders, which establish dedicated trusts for developers’ escrow funds, Uniform Fire Safety Act penalty monies, and accumulated absence liability. A handful of amendments were made to the spending plan since it was introduced in April. A budget hearing took place in May, but the council postponed final adoption until the state had made additional figures available. Although the council is set to meet this week, Ho-Ho-Kus Borough Clerk Laura Borchers explained that the special session was scheduled to avoid the need to send preliminary tax estimates to property owners. The municipal budget, which was introduced at $7,888,404, now totals $7,890,466, and includes an increase of approximately $162 for the owner of a home assessed at $900,000 (approximately 43 cents per $100 of assessed valuation). The amount to be raised by taxation in support of the municipal budget is $5,913,836. The spending plan includes a $250,000 reserve for uncollected taxes. The dedicated water utility budget totals $841,760 and the solid waste utility fund totals $897,000. At the special session, Councilman Kevin Crossley said there had been no cuts in essential services. Councilman Gordon Hamm pointed out that this was an extraordinary year for everyone, adding that the council must be prudent in maintaining the borough’s surplus. Hamm said the council could not cut funding to the point that emergency repairs could not be funded. After commenting on an accident that had damaged a fire hydrant and left the borough waiting for a payment from insurance, Hamm said, “We must be prudent in protecting ourselves from these events.” He also noted that some borough employees did not receive pay raises this year. Ho-Ho-Kus Mayor Thomas Randall said, “It’s about the long haul, not just this year.” He added that gimmicks employed to keep municipal purpose taxes down are not helpful, and could be harmful in future years. He noted the sacrifices of those who did not receive pay increases this year. Councilman Lee Flemming cast the lone dissenting vote against the budget. He also abstained from last year’s budget vote. Flemming told his peers it was his belief “we could have done a better job then and, had we, we might not have to be seeking a nearly 5.5 percent increase in the levy this year, during the most challenging economic environment in most people’s memories.” Flemming added, “If our police costs are essentially fixed, we have no choice but to economize elsewhere and do so more aggressively. Even a one percent reduction in this proposed nearly $8 million spending plan could have had a significantly reduced impact on the levy rate.” In response, Mayor Randall said there is nothing wrong with a negative vote that results from healthy debate. However, Randall asserted it seemed clear that the councilman planned to vote no. The mayor asserted that Flemming’s “next suggestion on the budget will be his first,” adding that the councilman has refused to offer meaningful participation in the budget process. “The statement (from Councilman Flemming) implies that somehow he was more concerned about the taxpayer when the opposite results from abdicating the budget responsibility…he implies that he recommended some reduction or solution that his colleagues disagreed with,” Randall added. “There was no such constructive alternative offered for discussion.” The mayor said that voting no without offering an alternative is not a responsible option. Flemming responded that it has been difficult to interpret the financial information as it was previously presented to the council members. He told the mayor, “I have a number of good suggestions to make,” and said he would gladly make suggestions going forward. Flemming said he wants to examine all of the line items in the budget. Randall said the councilman is free to meet with the department heads regarding budgetary matters, and may review any financial information. “It’s an open book to the residents of the town,” Randall told Flemming. After the meeting, Flemming said the borough’s financial reporting system did not allow for easy comparisons regarding changes in expenses from year to year. Flemming said Ho-Ho-Kus Chief Financial Officer Joseph Citro, who just completed his first budget for the borough, is working on improving the reporting system. Contract negotiations to continue The contract between the Ho-Ho-Kus Board of Education and the Ho-Ho-Kus Education Association, the organization that represents the district’s teachers and other union employees, expired June 30. Tina Malizia, co-president of the HEA, and Peter Terenzio, president of the board of education, have indicated that negotiations on a new agreement will continue during the coming months. A recent statement issued by the school district stated that both parties had conducted negotiations from January through May. Those talks resulted in a memorandum of agreement jointly signed by the parties’ negotiators in May, but, according to the statement, a majority of the HEA members did not ratify the terms of the proposed contract. As of mid-May, Villadom TIMES reported that the members of the Ho-Ho-Kus Board of Education and teachers, then led by Mary Meier, were working on the terms of a new contract for the district’s educators. At that time, Terenzio commented that the trustees and the teachers had been negotiating under difficult financial circumstances, but he reported that both sides were handling the matter professionally. Terenzio had also stated that the goal was to have a new contract in place before the prior agreement expired at the end of June. Neither the HEA nor the school board was prepared to release details concerning the contract talks or the contract that was not ratified. At press time, no information had been released regarding the next meeting between the trustees and the teachers. J. CRUSCO ��������� ������������ ���������������� ����������������������������� ������������������������� ����������������� ������� ������ ������������������������ ��������������������� ������������������� ������������ ����������������������� ������������������������