WW council says budget proposals skimpy

Spending for senior services, Community Festival questioned.

By: Shanay Cadette
WEST WINDSOR – Township Council members began discussions on the 2004 budget proposal Tuesday with a focus on programs that may be shortchanged.
      Members reviewed figures for the social services, parks and recreation, health and human services departments at its first budget session.
      Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh has proposed a $27.9 million budget, which reflects a 4.5-percent spending increase over last year’s budget. That figure would set the proposed municipal tax rate at 57 cents per $100 of assessed property value – a 4-cent property tax hike compared to last year.
      The administration has pointed to dwindling revenues coupled with increases in statutory requirements, such as insurance, as some of the reasons why the proposed tax rate has increased.
      Tuesday’s meeting, the first in a series of budget sessions, was marked by concerns about community needs being met, rather than by attempts to slash the proposed tax rate.
      Councilman Franc Gambatese complained West Windsor is shortchanging its older citizens with such a small operating budget in the senior services department.
      "I think it’s atrocious. I think it’s horrible," said Mr. Gambatese about the allotted $42,000. "How we treat our seniors measures what kind of people we are."
      Lynne Thornton, the manager of senior social services, explained the township doesn’t have a senior population that wants to sit in the center all day.
      "We are meeting the most critical needs," she said.
      Ms. Thornton added a lack of money is not precluding her from offering programs. The lack of space is the real culprit that prevents her from adding some of the more popular programs.
      Council members suggested Ms. Thornton begin preparing a budget proposal for next year to add space at the center and urged her to let them know if she needs a budget transfer to fund a program.
      Several council members later questioned why the Community Festival was axed from the budget for a second year in a row due to financial constraints.
      Councilwoman Jackie Alberts said she wasn’t happy about it being taken out of the budget last year, and asked why more creative ways of funding the festival were not explored. She suggested the township charge parking fees at the event to garner seed money for the following years.
      Ken Jacobs, the manager of parks and recreation, said he can’t get residents to volunteer to help him pull off such an event, and people have complained the festival doesn’t appeal to a variety of tastes.
      Council President Kristin Appelget said the fact that the Board of Recreation Commissioners refuses to spend money or time on such a festival shows there’s no support for it. Besides, residents don’t appear to be clamoring for it either.
      "Maybe we’re not ready for a Community Festival right now," Ms. Appelget said.
      "Maybe we would be if it touched more demographics," said Councilwoman Alison Miller. "We have to explore what would attract more people."
      "Instead of killing it, fix it," Ms. Alberts added.
      The council had few questions for the health and human services department. Members will continue discussing the budget in the coming weeks.