Middletown Mayor Stands by Governor's Budget Demands

Middletown budget facts and procedures explained

With Middletown embroiled in a budget crunch hotbed all its own, Republican Mayor Tony Fiore reacted on Tuesday night to Gov. Chris Christie’s afternoon 2012 state budget address saying he and the township can and will take the heat.

Of the mind that it’s better than a cut, hearing that municipal aid levels would stay flat pleased Fiore. Last year, he said, Middletown took roughly a $1.5 million slash in aid.

“That's right, mayors — at the exact same level as last year,” Gov. Christie said of state aid in his speech. “So there is no excuse for this relief to be eaten up with higher local taxes, between receiving no further cut in municipal aid, and implementing a 2 percent cap on property taxes."

Committed to the governor’s edict, Fiore, who is a first-time mayor, told Patch just before Tuesday’s Township Committee meeting: “We in Middletown are committed to conforming with the 2 percent property tax cap imposed by governor. The news that state aid won’t be cut (but will remain flat), helps. Because we couldn’t bear a further cut in state aid, it can’t be stressed enough that more of the governor’s tool kit needs to be passed by the state legislature to provide long term tax relief.”

At the meeting, the township’s municipal budget — that in a “worse case scenario” will give cause for a cut of 26 civil service jobs — was the topic of the night.

With township officials asking for a meeting of minds and financial aid between the library and township to keep the budget within the governor’s 2 percent tax cap and keep municipal services at a premium, neither side budged.

Saying it’s been done in several other towns across the state, the mayor is asking for the library to compromise and repay some of its debt service to the township ($898,000) from an old bond for its renovations. The library’s present $1.2 surplus is what the mayor said was a taxpayer-funded healthy one.

His claim that it is taxpayer-funded stems from the fact that “the library is funded by the township (and the municipal tax money it collects), based on what the state mandates we pay them,” he explained. Also, while operating as a separate entity with its own board of directors, it has employees who are technically township employees. (More on the library/budget subject later on Patch.)

Of those township staff positions slated for the only-if-necessary slash are: one in each of three departments, 10 police, 13 in the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Fans of a fee-supported fitness program sponsored by the department showed up to fight for their right to enjoy exercise in the township. Fiore told them they could be jumping to unnecessary conclusions.

Feeling as if there is a lot of public misconception concerning how Middletown’s budget is prepared and who has what authority, the mayor spelled out the process in his municipality:

The township administrator, Anthony Mercantante, is technically the budget boss. He and Chief Finance Officer Nick Trasente work together work together on the facts and figures and then convey their weighed cutting recommendations to all the township department heads, who must prepare to lop off staff positions and spending in line with their projections.

A projected “worst case scenario” plan is submitted to the state Civil Service Commission, as when civil service positions are cut, the proposed cuts must be approved by the state under its guidelines. Civil service, Mercantante had said, generally mandates, “not always fairly,” that positions get cut from the bottom up, meaning those with most seniority are usually protected. The budget, in the final phase, goes to the five-member Township Committee, which must pass it with a majority, or 3-2, vote.

This committee is all-Republican, as is the governor. While supportive of the fellow-Republican governor’s spending plan, Fiore stressed that he budget’s limitations make it all the more important that the Gov. Christie’s tool kit to be sanctioned by the legislature as soon as possible.

In the meantime, “We need to comply and will comply with this cap,” Fiore said.




J. Grenafege February 25, 2011 at 06:50 PM
Mr. Fiore emphasizes keeping within the 2% cap, which can lead a reader to believe that Middletown taxpayers will not see a budget increase above the 2%. What he does not mention, intentionally or unintentionally, is that pension and health care costs are two areas of several that are not bound by the 2% cap. Therefore, the overall budget increase may and very likely will exceed the cap. Also, given the significant drop in revenue the taxpayer will very likely see a tax levy that will exceed the 13% that Middletown residents were mandated to pay by the Township Committee as a result of last year's budget. Whether-or-not the all Republican committee members attempt to distort, like they did last year, the impact of having to raise over 45 million dollars for a 62 million dollar budget by reaching into residential and commercial taxpayer pockets by only discussing tax increase percentages in "overall" terms by linking the Middletown budget inpact to the Middletown Board of Education and Monmouth County budgets remains to be seen. If historical behavior is an indication of what to expect, then be prepared for 'The Shell Game'. Although this year it may be cousin 'Three Card Monty' who proposes and passes a budget that has a tax levy north of 13% -- even if the Middletown Public Library kicks-in 200 thousand plus more dollars.
MiddletownMike February 25, 2011 at 07:38 PM
I love how the story keeps changing on the layoff of 26 township employees. Prior to the Febraury 16th Library Board of Trustees meeting the Township demanded surplus funds so that those people woould not lose their jobs. During the meeting Township Committeeman Kevin Settembrino, who sits on the Library Board as the mayor's appointee, and mayor Fiore each stated that regardless of whether or not library funds were transfered to the Township the 26 layoff would go on as planned, any money received from the library would be used to head of futher labor cuts. Now Fiore has back peddled again to say the layoff plan is a "worse case senario" if funds are not handed over. What gives here? The story keeps changing as the audiance changes. It should also be noted that the alleged surplus figure of $1.2M is a ficticous number based on on a 4 year old IRS 990 tax document and 2 year old faulty audit that was conducted prior to a library fund transfer to the Township to cover library expenses.


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