Council preparing for public budget hearing

Appropriations ordinance passed in anticipation of budget vote

BY CHRIS GAETANO Staff Writer

The Edison Township Council voted to adopt an ordinance that would allow the budget to exceed the state-mandated budget cap — a limit on how much money can be appropriated at once — by an additional 1 percent.

Ordinarily, municipalities are allowed a 2.5 percent exception, but they are allowed to increase this to 3.5 percent through an ordinance.

The ordinance’s near-unanimous adoption during the council’s Nov. 12 meeting comes in anticipation of the upcoming public hearings for the township’s $118 million 2009 budget, after which it is expected that the spending plan will be adopted. If adopted as is, this budget will be $3 million higher than last year’s, representing a 5 percent tax increase for Edison residents.

Some council members, though, have said they are eager to look for cuts in order to get the tax levy lower.

Councilwoman Antonia Ricigliano opposed the ordinance during its introduction last month, and her opinion didn’t change when the time came for adoption. Saying that the current economic climate is not conducive to exceeding state-mandated spending limits, she offered the sole “no” vote on the council.

“Particularly with the economic situation we have, we should live within our means. I cannot support this,” said Ricigliano.

Councilman Anthony Massaro, however, voiced his cautious support for the measure, saying that it allows for flexibility in this year’s budget proceedings. He noted that the ordinance does not necessarily mean that the township will exceed the cap limit, merely that it can.

“This measure is purely discretionary. … The real test will be when we vote on the ’08-’09 budget … that is when the rubber meets the road. This is just a philosophical issue,” said Massaro.

Council President Robert Diehl said that public hearings on the budget, first made public by Mayor Jun Choi in September and introduced by the council in October, will take place on Nov. 24 at a combined work session and action meeting, starting at 6 p.m. in the municipal building. However, he conceded that this might not be enough time to go over everything in the budget to the public’s satisfaction, and so a special Dec. 3 meeting, starting at 7 p.m., has also been scheduled.

Should the budget be adopted in December, the process will have been much faster than the passage of last year’s 2008 spending plan, which was finally approved by the council in March. Around December of last year, the council, which at that point held four incumbent Democrats who had lost the primary to Mayor Jun Choi’s challengers, lacked the line item documentation to construct a formal budget amendment, despite repeatedly requesting the information from the mayor’s office. The requested information was released and made public after those four council members left office in January.

Contact Chris Gaetano at

sentnorth@gmnews.com.