City Manager Ed Stinson presented a rough draft of Brigantine's 2017 municipal budget at the Feb. 15 City Council meeting. The proposed $31 million budget is subject to approval and potential adjustment by council, and will likely be presented for a final vote in March.
Details of the working budget will be posted to the city website at bb-nj.org. To find it, go to the Government drop-down menu and click “budget” in the financial department option.
Prior to formal business Wednesday, Mayor Phil Guenther asked for a moment of silence to honor Richard Derrickson, a longtime captain of the Brigantine Beach Patrol from the 1950s through the ’70s who died Feb. 9.
Stinson said the $31,131,706 total budget, created with input from city department heads, Chief Financial Officer Roxanne Tosto and city auditor Leon Costello, carries a 2.1-cent tax decrease for 2017. That translates into $21 for every $100,000 of assessed property value.
Councilman Mike Riordan pointed out that this is the third year in a row for a decrease in property taxes without a compromise in city services, despite a substantial loss in ratables due largely to casino closures and a down economy. Since 2008, all New Jersey municipalities have been under a tax-levy cap law that limits growth of a city's local purpose tax to 2 percent annually. Brigantine is under its cap limit by about $1.9 million, according to Costello.
The council meeting included the public hearing and adoption of two ordinances that would formally induct the Brigantine Green Team and the Brigantine Beach Committee into the city code as permanent advisory committees. The reasons stemmed, as explained in council's last meeting Feb. 1, from questions and concerns that were being directed to city officials who could not provide complete answers since the two entities were independent of city affiliation, and because the use of city land and resources came into play. The incorporation into the city code was little more than a formality to make the working relationships run smoother, city officials said.
The ordinances were opened to public comment before council voted on them. David Roantree, manager of the Brigantine Farmers Market, said he wanted to clear up any misconceptions that the city intended to take over the Green Team and its operations. The Green Team created the Farmers Market in 2014 and will bring it back for a fourth year starting May 27 and running through Labor Day weekend, with a couple of special events slated for the fall.
“I just wanted to let people know that the city's intention is not to take over the farmers market and to put any rumors to rest,” said Roantree. “I want to clear the air with that, because once these rumors start it's hard to stop them. We're in full swing already and we're looking forward to a good working relationship with City Council, (Public Works Superintendent) John Doring and his crew, the police and fire departments. We've always had a good working relationship with the city, and I'm proud to say we put out a great product.”
“It's an incredible effort by a lot of people, and it gets better every year,” said Guenther.
Both ordinances received unanimous approval.
Council introduced an ordinance for the purchase of upgraded radios and related equipment for the police and fire departments for $125,000. Police Chief Jim Bennett said the radios in police cruisers currently operate on a system created in 1999, and the proposed upgrades are the second phase in an improved communications system that began after 9/11. The upgrades would allow for uninterrupted communication between Brigantine first responders and provide instant mobilized communication with all federal, state and county first responders. The ordinance will be up for final adoption at council's March 1 meeting.
Anne Phillips of the Brigantine Taxpayers Association again stated that the words “transparency, disclosure and the public's right to know” are being ignored where they apply to releasing details of public-sector union contracts before council votes on them.
“There is no legal reason why the final negotiated agreement between the city and the union shouldn't be provided to the public before council discusses and votes on it,” she said.
Councilman Dennis Haney, a retired state policeman, said that the state's open public records law designates a list of 25 government records that are not available for public inspection. Item 13 on the list states “information generated by or on behalf of public employers or public employees in connection with collective negotiations, including documents and statements of strategy or negotiating position.” Council's stance when Phillips made the request in the past is that doing so would open up finalized contract negotiations to the public that could potentially negate good-faith agreements between the city and the union contract officials.
Council's next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 1.