Anticipated savings make up budget cut

Staff Writer

Anticipated savings
make up budget cut
Staff Writer

HOWELL — Once voters defeated the Board of Education’s proposed budget of $97 million for the 2004-05, it fell to the Township Council to recommend where to cut that spending plan.

What the township’s auditor finally came up with was not so much a cut in spending as it was a provision for an anticipated additional surplus of $566,000 to go back into the budget.

By a vote of 3-2, the council approved the $566,000 budget adjustment based on the expected retirement of 15 teachers eligible under the state’s Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP). With the retirement of teachers at the top of the K-8 school district’s pay scale being replaced with teachers receiving entry level salaries and/or lower salaries, the district is expected to see savings in that line item in the coming year.

It was also announced that a deal has been worked out in which the Howell school district will give the township two trailers valued at $140,000 that will be used to house township personnel from the engi­neering and code building on Preventorium Road, according to Township Manager Bruce Davis.

The $566,000 reduction in the budget will cut the board’s pro­posed 16-cent increase per $100 of assessed valuation in the K-8 tax rate to a 15-cent increase. For the owner of a home assessed at $150,000, K-8 school taxes will rise $225 next year instead of $240. For the owner of a home assessed at $300,000, K-8 school taxes will rise $450 next year instead of $480.

Before the vote to adopt the bud­get resolution was held, Councilman Juan Malave said the $566,000 cut was an "insult to the taxpayers." He said he found it "amazing … that in a $97 million budget more cuts can’t be found."

The deal for the donation of the trailers did nothing to mollify Malave, who seemed further in­censed by the idea.

"Maybe I’m stupid, but I don’t see savings to the taxpayers. How is getting trailers a savings when the taxpayers already paid for them? Why wouldn’t the Board of Education just give them up any­way if they didn’t need them since the taxpayers paid for them? I would rather we don’t cut any­thing than insult taxpayers with this" resolution, he said.

Deputy Mayor Cynthia Schomaker said she agreed with Malave and the two voted against adopting the resolution.

In voting for the resolution, council members Peter Tobasco and Joseph DiBella and Mayor Timothy J. Konopka said they agreed with the arguments made by Malave, but decided it was bet­ter to take the action recommended by accountant William A. Meyler than to have state education offi­cials do their work for them.

If realized, the $566,000 cut ad­justs the tax levy — the part of the budget paid directly by Howell taxpayers — from $52,272,427 to $51,706,427, according to the reso­lution.

In explaining his recommenda­tion for the resolution as presented, Meyler said his review of the bud­get had found that the school board had worked to keep its expendi­tures "in line." According to Meyler, the $97 million budget pre­sented to voters on April 20 was "very reasonable."

"A 2 percent increase is not that bad when you look at today’s in­flationary rates," he said.

Meyler said the increase over the current year’s $92.4 million spending plan was a total 4.5 per­cent increase, with the opening costs of a new middle school in September accounting for 2.6 per­cent of the total increase.

"All other expenditures were consistent," the accountant said.

Jeffrey Filiatreault, the town­ship’s chief financial officer, said the school board has until June 9 to notify the township of the actual number of teachers who will be opting to take advantage of the early retirement program. The fi­nal amount to be realized in sav­ings will be determined following the receipt of that information, he said.