Howell reports it will get 99% of state funds

Staff Writer

HOWELL — The municipality had enough answers in the yes column of the state’s Local Government Best Practices checklist to ensure that Howell will receive 99 percent of the state aid due by the end of the year.

“I can assure you that next year we are going to score a lot higher,” Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Filiatreault said at a recent Township Council meeting. “We are one [yes answer] short [of receiving] 100 percent of our state aid. Every non-applicable answer counts as a no.”

Township Manager Helene Schlegel and Mayor Robert F. Walsh said the state had not given municipalities much time to respond to the checklist.

“We agree with best practices,” Schlegel said. “We just wish we would have had more time. We received the checklist on Aug. 30 and it had needed to be certified by Oct. 1.”

“There wasn’t enough time,” Walsh said.

The Local Government Best Practices checklist is part of Gov. Chris Christie’s toolkit initiative to bring more accountability, responsible budgeting and management, and cost controls to local governments, according to the state Department of Community Affairs Internet website.

New Jersey municipal officials were required to provide yes or no answers to 88 questions on the checklist, which is divided into sections dealing with general management; financial management; public safety; public works; health; energy and utilities; and municipal-school relations.

“We scored 75 yes answers,” Filiatreault said. “Many of these we did out of good management.”

If a municipality had between 76 and 88 yes answers on the checklist, it will receive 100 percent of its promised state aid; 61-75 yes answers will net 99 percent of promised state aid; 46-60 yes answers will translate into 98 percent of state aid; 31-45 yes answers will net 97 percent of state aid; 16-30 answers will garner 96 percent; and 0-15 yes answers will net 95 percent of promised state aid.

“Each municipality will need to meet an established percentage of the checklist items in order for all or part of your last state aid payment to be released,” DCA Commissioner Lori Grifa said in an Aug. 25 letter to Garden State municipalities.

“In his Fiscal Year 2011 budget presentation in March, the Governor introduced his agenda for keeping our state livable and affordable through effective and efficient management of taxpayer dollars,” Grifa said in the letter. “The Governor presented the Legislature with a set of ‘toolkit’ proposals to strengthen the partnership with local governments, help limit property tax increases and manage within the new 2 percent cap law.”

Much of the legislation that would implement what Christie has referred to for months as the toolkit have not yet been enacted by the Legislature. More than 30 bills make up the toolkit initiative.

Walsh said smaller towns are having a tougher time with the checklist because they often lack the resources larger towns have.

And the state has an answer for smaller municipalities that are having problems coming up with enough yes answers, according to the mayor.

“Consolidate,” Walsh said.