Mayor proposes $118M municipal budget

Proposed spending plan could mean 5% tax increase for residents

BY CHRIS GAETANO Staff Writer

Edison Mayor Jun Choi has released his proposed 2009 municipal budget to the public, thus kicking off the review process that will eventually finalize the township’s spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year. Choi said he was excited about this year’s budget, because it is the first to come in under the rate of inflation.

The proposed budget is $118 million, representing a 5 percent tax increase over last year’s roughly $115 million figure. According to page 3 of the document, taxpayers will be responsible for $78 million, which translates into an approximately $92 increase on the average homeowner’s tax bill.

The township is expected to receive about $21 million in state aid, which Choi said was still about $1 million less than last year’s figure. This shortfall, however, is made up for by an anticipated $1 million from Hartz Mountain, the company that is in the process of redeveloping the former Ford plant site on Route 1 and Vineyard Road, contingent upon the project receiving final site plan approval from the township.

Choi, in a Sept. 15 interview, said he is confident that things can be worked out with Hartz by the end of this year, noting that the preliminary approval process, which took multiple Planning Board meetings spanning 12 hours of testimony to conclude, was the difficult part. This $1 million is meant to go directly into the municipal budget, as per the agreement Edison made with the development firm. The mayor also said that Hartz, as part of the deal, is expected to provide an additional half-million dollars to be used at the township’s discretion.

Choi noted that the township is not going to apply for extraordinary aid this year, saying that the requirements to do so represent unsound fiscal policy. He said that in order to receive extraordinary aid from the state, the township would have to expend its entire surplus to show that it needs the extra money, a move the mayor said is just not worth it.

The proposed budget leaves behind a $1.5 million reserve fund, which can be used to cushion any unforeseen circumstances. It also lists about $1.5 million the township has received in various grants and homeland security aid and clean communities.

The spending plan does not use money from the sewer budget surplus but, like many budgets before it, does use sewer funds in the form of splits, in which funding from one department comes from the budget of another.

According to Choi, the proposed plan does not create any new positions, and he said that over the past two years and eight months, staffing in the municipal government has been cut by about 10 percent cumulatively.

The only area that would receive a tax increase in the new budget is a program called “Bridges,” which provides after-school and enrichment programs to local youths to create alternatives to joining gangs.

The proposed increase is smaller than last year’s 9.8 percent hike, which Choi attributes to the aforementioned cuts in staff, a focus on efficiency, and renegotiated contracts with the various labor unions in town, as well as additional revenues like the agreement with Hartz and various other grants.

“We are pleased to present a budget that achieves fiscal stability,” said Choi.

The mayor stated that the township had been troubled with financial problems in the past, which had translated into a 200 percent tax increase over the past 12 years. Taxes increased 9.5 percent in 2007 and 15.1 percent in 2006.

Last year Choi talked about a threeyear plan for Edison to achieve property tax stability, which involved the aforementioned 9.8 percent tax increase in 2008 that he said would be invested in infrastructure and creating revenue sources. This was to be followed by a 4.5 percent increase in 2009 and a 4.3 percent increase in 2010.

In the Sept. 15 interview, Choi said he has previously stated that 4.5 percent was the target tax rate for this budget but that the overall goal, which was accomplished, was to get the tax increase below the rate of inflation or the average state tax rate. This was accomplished, he said, despite sharp increases in energy, health care and pension costs.

The mayor said he is confident that with this spending plan, the township has achieved financial stability and will be insulated from dramatic jumps in the tax rate, unlike previous years. He said his target for 2010 is a 3.7 percent increase.

The Township Council had already received copies of the proposed budget as of press time and will be discussing it during a public meeting on Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. at the municipal building.

The 144-page budget document, which weighs about 3 pounds, was received by the Sentinel on Sept. 15, the editorial deadline. A more detailed look at the proposed spending plan will be forthcoming in future issues.

Chris Gaetano can be reached at Sent-

North@gmnews.com.
Edison’s proposed
2009 municipal budget
Total proposed budget: $118 million
Taxpayer share: $78,263,035
Percentage increase: 5%
Impact on average taxpayer:
$91.99 more on average property
tax bill