By Josh LaBella
With the deadline for a budget set for midnight, the City Council had an impromptu meeting Tuesday night to hash out final details after press time. City Council Chairman Ron Quagliani said if a budget is not passed by the strike of 12 tonight, then, under the charter, Mayor Nancy Rossi’s proposed $153.3 million package will automatically take effect.
Quagliani said he believes there are a few areas that need adjustments, but in his opinion the budget is “lean” and pointed to most departments being flat-funded. Many employees, meanwhile, have agreed to zero wage increases. He said he is in support of no tax increases and does not want to see the 36.26 mill rate rise.
“I am opposed to increasing the mill rate and further burdening our residents to simply increase our surplus,” said Quagliani. “We as a community and a state are overtaxed as it is and asking for more, in my opinion, is not an option.”
Quagliani pointed out that to pass any change in the budget the council needs a super majority of nine votes in favor out of the 13 council members. He said he is hopeful that the council can achieve this in the waning hours to make those adjustments, as they are elected to represent their residents.
He added that if the budget is not passed then the Municipal Accountability Review Board can approve a different budget that may potentially include a tax increase.
Fifth District Councilwoman Robin Hamilton said Mayor Rossi and Finance Director Frank Cieplinski have worked diligently on the budget and that she trusts the council will do what they were elected do “before the midnight hour.”
As the Fifth District is in Allingtown, Hamilton said she is particularly sensitive to tax increase, as the borough was hit with a supplemental increase earlier in the year.
“The mayor’s recommended budget adjustments addresses my concerns offering no increase in the fire or city mill rates,” said Hamilton. “I am optimistic that the mayor’s budget will pass, imposing no a hardship on the taxpayers.”
Bridgette Hoskie, the councilwoman representing the Frist District, said while she feels there is more work to be done, she is pleased to see all the errors the Rossi and Cieplinski corrected in the budget. She said one way she believes the city can save money is by investing in solar energy to power street and traffic lights as well as upgrading city buildings to work “smarter not harder.” She named other areas which she said need improvement.
“I wasn’t happy to see we pay $40K in banking fees. I suggested we look into that to see if we can shop around for a better deal that meets our needs,” said Hoskie. “Over the next year I’m interested in seeing what we can do to continue this path of fiscal responsibility.”
Other council members, such as Eighth District Councilwoman Tracey Morrissey, did not have a positive outlook on the proposed budget. She said it presented no real changes and did not provide a sustainable long-term plan.
“We know there are major holes in this budget and the mayor never offered any real solutions,” said Morrissey. “I am beyond frustrated waiting for the supporting documentation to materialize to even consider making any changes to the proposed budget to cover these large deficits.”
Tenth District Councilwoman Louise Martone also said she would not support the budget as it stands, saying that it is not balanced.
“The MS4, Allingtown Fire Department and the Board of Education are all areas that need to be dealt with,” said Martone. “I am still waiting on information that pertains to the budget. In my opinion, the city council needs to find a way to balance the budget so that it works for tax payers without hurting them.”