Budget scenarios offer no easy choices

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Brigantine Brigantine

City must decide between raising taxes or slashing spending by more than $2.6 million

It was another long Wednesday night for the mayor and city council as they wrestled with issues dealing with the upcoming municipal budget, future building height restrictions and a proposed road project.

The meeting started with a proposal by local builder Ralph Busco (AlisonPaul Builders) representing the residential builders on the island. The proposal was put forth originally to members of the building committee, select members of the planning board, the city manager, mayor and others.

“They called for this meeting with (us) requesting our input,” said Busco, in response to an email. “As far as I know, no changes have been adopted other than measuring from the new base flood elevations.”

A previous proposal submitted by City Planner Lance Landgraf would have measured the height of the residences from the crown of the adjoining road. Busco’s proposal would measure from mean sea level and, in his words, “be concise and fair.”

Busco said that since building grades on the island varied mostly between 6 and 10 feet, the use of mean sea level would give each builder “the same starting line and the same finish line.”

The resulting change in the building code would only be 3 inches higher than existing code. The maximum ranges of roof heights would be 37.9 to 44.9 feet high, giving a more consistent range than the reported 50-foot heights discussed.

Busco said it was important that all builders and developers continue to have the option to build three-story residences if they so wish, as they always have under the current code.

Michael Cesaro of Bowman & Company, the new municipal auditor, gave a PowerPoint presentation previewing options for the 2013 municipal budget. It was short, concise, and scary.

The continued loss of ratables is impacting the revenue available to the city to function. In 2012 the ratables for the island were $4,446,203,020. But after tax appeals, the 2013 ratables are at $4,254,101,962 – a loss of $192,101,058. Even if the city was able to use the same budget as last year with no increase in spending, it would still require an increase in taxes.

Cesaro gave three different scenarios for council to consider.

If council were to approve a budget using the maximum dollars allowed under state statute, the budget would come in at $23,417,961. That means the 2013 tax rate estimate would be .550 compared to 2012 tax rate of .488 – an increase of .062 cents.

If there was no Tax Levy Increased Budget, the levy estimate would be $21,720,975 and would require a reduction in spending of $1,696,985. Even so, the tax rate would increase to .511 – an increase of .023 cents.

The most onerous scenario, with no tax rate increase at all, would result in a budget of $20,760,017 and would require a spending reduction of $2,657,943.

Most of the city’s expenses are related to staffing, which comprises 60 percent of the budget. Any of the proposed budget scenarios could affect staffing and include layoffs.

The city manager is currently negotiating with four unions, and those talks are closely tied to the city’s budget. The current contracts will soon be posted on the city’s website, and the new contracts will be posted once they are finalized.

Cesaro pointed out that the city has $4,298,750 in Compensated Absence Liability (the amount owed employees of the city in sick and vacation days owed), with no reserve banked. He advised that various departments anticipate retirements and that these funds should be escrowed.

He also noted the golf course’s 2012 operating deficit of $42,980 – a result of the economic downturn.

According to Cesaro, a bigger concern might be the lack of reserve for any tax appeals anticipated in 2013.

City Manager Jennifer Blumenthal stated that Vital Communications, who is contracted to complete the island’s revaluation, will be restarting the process in April or May with no additional cost to the city over the approved contract. The revaluation would go into effect in 2014.

Council agreed with Blumenthal that she and Chris Johansen would develop three proposed budgets (and the impact of reductions) to present to council at the next council meeting. The budget is expected to be formally introduced at a special council meeting by March 15.

Council tabled Ordinance 1-2013, a proposal to eliminate commissions that are no longer operating in the city (Environmental, Shade Tree, Local Assistance, Tourist and Business Development), after public discussion. It was proposed that the existence of an Environmental Commission might benefit the island.

Council did approve resolutions releasing a “Performance Guarantee for the Clipper Ship Condo” conversion as well as authorizing a professional service contract with the Coastal Research Center at Richard Stockton College. The contract would provide monitoring Brigantine beaches semi-annually, address the beach erosion problem at the Absecon Inlet jetty and investigate sand back-passing and/or groin placement for the promenade section of the beach.

A controversy developed over the proposed resolution to authorize Doran Engineering to bid for a project on the resurfacing and street reconfiguration at the triangle at 32nd Street.

Councilman DeLucry, who has been critical of past invoices from Doran, questioned why the purchase order request ($6,317.24) included a charge for a previous design project ($3,317.24) which should have been presented as a change order.

Council approved the purchase order “not to exceed $3,000” for the project, which has already been approved by the county and was in danger of losing county funding.

After a break for executive session, Blumenthal discussed a possible ordinance for use of trailers to be used by home owners to use during reconstruction. She also proposed to council that the public not be privy to the union contracts prior to ratification, as it “would put the unions in the position of negotiating with the public” – a request that council endorsed.

Finally, council members agreed to consider an alternate date for the council meeting scheduled for Saturday, April 13, which conflicts with the Opening Day Parade for Baseball.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 6 in council chambers at City Hall. The meeting agenda and supporting documents are available online prior to the meeting at www.brigantinebeachnj.com.

The Beachcomber News is Brigantine’s official newspaper of record and publishes all city legal notices.

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