WEST AMWELL: Tax hike probable with no extra state aid

Failure to win extraordinary aid means a likely increase of nearly $100 in property taxes for the average homeowner

By Linda Seida, Staff Writer
   WEST AMWELL — West Amwell has failed to win any extraordinary aid from the state, which could mean furloughs for police officers if the township’s fiscal condition deteriorates before the end of the year, according to the mayor.
   The failure to win extraordinary aid also means a likely increase of nearly $100 in property taxes for the average homeowner.
   The township applied in April to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs for $200,000 to help balance its budget. When the awards were announced Friday, DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said West Amwell is not in line to receive any extraordinary aid.
   Mayor William Corboy said the township will move forward now and adopt its budget, probably next month, and continue to curtail expenses by instituting employee furloughs, if necessary, while hoping to avoid any layoffs.
   ”I don’t believe there will be any layoffs,” the mayor said. “There could be a furlough. I hope we can get through the end of the year without that happening.”
   If furloughs are instituted, the first to experience them would be police officers, the mayor said, “because they have not given up anything.”
   Earlier this year, the mayor had asked the police union to voluntarily give up a contractual 4 percent raise that would have equaled less than $15,000, but discussions did not materialize and there was no forward movement on the proposal.
   However, the head of the Police Department, Lt. Stephen Bartzak, gave up his 4 percent raise.
   Also, Officer Anthony Goccia received his raise, then turned around and wrote a check to the township, giving it back, the mayor said.
   By giving up or giving back their raises, Lt. Bartzak and Officer Goccia saved the township between $6,000 and $7,000, the mayor said.
   Earlier this year, the mayor also called for a slashing of the Police Department’s overtime hours by half, saving around $40,000.
   The township’s $3,390,247 budget was introduced in April. The tax rate would be 18.34 cents per $100 of assessed value.
   The township will not have to go back to the drawing board and crunch numbers because the proposed budget did not factor in the possible receipt of extraordinary aid dollars, Mayor Corboy said. He was unsure if the budget vote would be on the agenda during the single meeting scheduled for September, or if a special meeting would be called.
   West Amwell normally holds two meetings per month, but with the budget crunch, the township cut it down to one per month through September.
   The decision to cut down the meeting schedule was prompted by a need to cut expenses, Mayor Corboy said. “(Clerk) Lora (Olsen) always attends, and also we often have our professionals there,” he said.
   In addition to holding fewer meetings this year, the township also asked its professionals to voluntarily cut their invoices for service to West Amwell by 10 percent.
   Also, members of the Township Committee gave up their salaries for a savings of about $10,000.
   ”We’ve done everything we can to contain costs,” Mayor Corboy said. “Most of the people have understood and complied. I didn’t know what reaction I’d get. For the most part, people have been understanding.”
   The Township Committee also cut non-union employees’ pay earlier this year by 10 percent and also furloughed them on Fridays. The Public Works Department also went to a four-day workweek, but with extended hours.
   Another move to help the township’s finances came when the committee called for a $75 fee for six months for residents who wanted to continue to drop off their garbage at the municipal building.
   The township asked the state for aid this year because it is facing higher than normal legal fees, mostly from litigation. The township is defending itself against a lawsuit filed by a former mayor and his family.