PETERSBURG – Committeeman John Coggins said Monday that Upper Township Committee would have to cut about $430,000 from its preliminary 2017 municipal budget in order to assure a zero tax increase.
Township Committee held its first budget workshop of the year Jan. 23 before its regular meeting. Coggins said the workshop was an overview of the spending plan, comparing requested 2017 appropriations versus what was budgeted and what was actually spent in 2016.
“We are looking for variances and trying to explain the variances,” he said.
Township Committee approved a $12,156,584 municipal budget with a 2 cent tax rate increase last year.
Most of the changes in department budget requests are accounted for by increases in salaries and wages. Coggins said the budget for the mayor and Township Committee would increase $1,000 to $88,750 in the proposed budget. The budget for the clerk’s office would go up from $230,000 to $239,000, he said. Finance and administration would see an increase from $279,300 in 2016 to $393,600 in 2017. Coggins attributed $63,000 of that to increasing salaries and the creation of a new township administrator position this year.
The budget for the Upper Township Division of EMS would increase from $667,200 in 2016 to about $775,000 in 2017 under the budget. About $574,000 of the 2016 appropriation went to salaries and wages, and EMS is requesting an additional full-time employee this year, Coggins said.
He asked that the Division of EMS supply budgeted and actual salary appropriations for 2015 and 2016 as well as overtime costs to justify the need for an additional employee.
Committeeman Curtis Corson said that an extra full-time employee would end up cutting overtime costs in EMS. Coggins agreed but said that hiring a new employee is more than just a salary.
“There are legacy costs too,” he said, referring to pension and health care contributions.
Corson said that part of the cost of EMS is reimbursed by health insurance companies.
“We do recoup some of those costs,” Corson said.
Coggins said the township’s Office of Emergency Management appropriation would go down about $6,400 in the proposed budget. There is about $230,000 budgeted for emergency dispatch, which will be paid to Ocean City for the service. Chief Financial Officer Barbara Spiegel said about $25,000 usually paid to Ocean City for EMS and fire service to Strathmere had been removed from the budget because of a credit.
“It is an accumulation over a number of years,” Spiegel said. “We will not be responsible for paying anything this year because of the credit.”
She said the credit would most likely cover next year’s costs as well.
Coggins said appropriations for the tax assessor and tax collection would increase over last year, and legal services would go up $5,000 to $180,000 under the proposed budget. The engineering budget is slated to increase $2,100 to $157,000 in 2017 because of potential costs associated with affordable housing. Spiegel said that cost and a $5,000 stipend to township engineer Paul Dietrich could be funded through the affordable housing trust fund, which is currently at $600,000. The fund is built up through developer’s fees.
Dietrich said only 20 percent of the trust fund could be used for consultant fees, such as engineering work. He said that is why the township has normally had another line item in the budget.
“There is a 20 percent cap on consultant’s fees,” he said. “We’re usually right at the cap.”
“It’s not a lot in the overall picture but I have a star next to it,” Mayor Richard Palombo said.
Coggins said about $4,300 is budgeted for public information – or UTTV – but that the computer line item has another $14,000 for equipment and $1,500 in labor to upgrade the public information channel. He said he would like to see that money all included in the public information line item.
“One of the things I want to do over the next few years is map where our allocations really go,” Coggins said. “Are we really spending X dollars on trash collection or is some of that money subsidizing recreation?”
He said that clarity would let the public know where their tax dollars are being spent.
“Let the public know what items in the government we provide actually cost,” Coggins said.
Palombo said the township is doing research into the amount of viewership UTTV gets. He said Township Committee meetings are aired on the channel and other township and school information is posted.
“It seems like it’s time to upgrade what is on the channel,” Palombo said.
Dietrich said the township provides the computers to run the channel but it is largely maintained by Upper Township School District staff. The school district also uses the channel to post information, he said.
The next budget workshop is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 13 at the Upper Township Municipal Building in Petersburg.