East Brunswick officials see another budget crunch year ahead


EAST BRUNSWICK — Mayor David Stahl said he sees 2010 as a continuation of efforts he began when he took over as mayor last year.

However, he certainly hopes the obstacles are smaller.

They probably won’t be, he admitted, saying he believes the township will see further decreases in state aid. One of the primary categories of aid, Consolidated Municipal Property Tax Relief Act (CMPTRA), has been cut over the years.

“I am anticipating it will be further reduced,” Stahl said. “They call it state aid, but to us it is our tax dollars being returned to us.”

It remains unclear what Gov.- elect Chris Christie will do with the state budget and local aid allocations.

“Christie has talked about cutting spending, and a loss of municipal aid concerns me,” Stahl said. “We don’t have a track record as to what to expect from Christie.”

Noting that figures from Trenton often do not arrive until June or later, Stahl said the township may have to reduce the amount of aid anticipated in its 2010 municipal budget.

Township Council President Catherine Diem echoed many of Stahl’s thoughts, saying she is very concerned with how Christie will balance the state budget.

“It may be at the expense of municipalities,” she said.

As for what to expect in township government in 2010, Diem said she always seeks to examine the operations to see what’s working and what’s not. She said the township needs to secure more grants, as well as economies of scale.

As for possible cuts to programs or the workforce, Diem said she has not seen the budget yet and does not know if any cuts are being considered. She would not comment on the Golden Triangle redevelopment effort, because it is tied up in litigation.

Stahl said he would continue to have a citizens’ finance committee meet on budget concerns as it did last year. He noted that the town lost 12 percent of its budget revenues last year, and cut 7 percent of its spending.

Newly elected Councilwoman Camille Ferraro, the otherwise Democratic governing body’s lone Republican, said the township has become too reliant on state aid, comparing the situation to workers who get hooked on overtime pay, only to suffer when it stops.

“It is ingrained in the mentality of the American people that we are entitled to the state money,” she said. “You can’t count on it. I’m not surprised state aid is drying up.”

Ferraro said she believes that local governments will have to continue to be cut in terms of employees and programs.

“We will have to make cuts where they thought cuts could not be made,” she said.

The Golden Triangle litigation, she said, is the “biggest elephant in the room for the council,” and the town should be prepared to have to buy back the property from Toll Brothers, paying off its loan with interest. With Sam’s Club expected to move from the property, she said the township should consider leasing the site for use as a Wal-Mart or other retailers.

“I think we should keep [the property] and lease it to a developer,” she said.

In general, Ferraro said, the town cannot take on any added costs.

“I will be adamant about no more spending,” she said.