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Verona’s Budget Vs. Our Neighbors
Last week, Verona resident Alex Roman unveiled a proposal for an alternative municipal budget that would raise Verona taxes by 1.3% instead of the 6.5% proposed by Verona Township Manager Joe Martin, and without affecting essentials, like the police or facilities maintenance. Roman’s analysis of our budget showed that Verona’s expenses have increased at three times the rate of inflation since 2008 and that municipal debt service is up 42% since that time.
Now Roman, who ran unsuccessfully for Town Council last year, has looked at how Verona’s budget stacks up to those of neighboring towns, and the results are even more sobering. While every town around us has had budget increases in the last four years, Verona’s has risen by a greater percentage than any other town. That includes Montclair, which has a paid fire department and ambulance squad. Of the six towns that Roman analyzed outside Verona–Caldwell, West Caldwell, Essex Fells, Glen Ridge, Montclair and Little Falls–only Caldwell has kept its tax levies from rising more than inflation. Caldwell’s budget has only gone up $500,000 since 2008. (Roman was not able to get data for every town that borders on Verona.)
There are dozens of costs that go into any municipal budget, but Roman has been particularly concerned with the size of Verona’s surplus. which Martin has sought to maintain at $2,000,000 yearly. Roman’s analysis put the surplus at $2,978,376.35 as of December 31, 2013. The anticipated surplus in the 2014 budget is $2,850,000.
In his most recent analysis, he has learned that Verona’s surplus, as a percentage of its budget, is far higher than that of neighboring towns. Verona’s surplus is more than 12% of its budget, while West Caldwell, Glen Ridge, North Caldwell, Essex Fells, Cedar Grove, Bloomfield, Montclair, Caldwell and Little Falls all maintain surpluses of less than 6%. If Verona were to lower its surplus to a percentage equal to Roseland–which has keeps 7.2% of its budget–Verona’s surplus would fall to $1668447, a difference of $1,181,553.
Roman knows that budget change won’t happen at the flip of a switch. Because we must wait for the state to finish its budget before finalizing ours, Verona’s budget year is half over before the Town Council approves the actual budget. And he’s not for indiscriminate slashing: As someone who manages a budget larger than Verona’s for a private-sector company, Roman supports much of Verona’s capital spending, like the new 911 emergency system. His goal, as he stated last week, is “to put the township back on an appropriate financial path while retaining a sizable and well-paid staff, a substantial capital budget, and a healthy reserve fund that meets their stated objectives.”
To spur thinking ahead of the Town Council’s vote on the budget on Monday, June 2, Roman has sent his alternative budget to all five Council members. Three votes are needed to have Martin’s 6.5% tax increase pass. The Town Council meets on the second floor of Town Hall, starting at 7 p.m.
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