Political Opponents Trade Barbs at Brick Budget Hearing
Spending plan passes 6-1, however
About two hours of political back-and-forth conversations culminated in the final passing of Brick's 2012 municipal budget in a 6-1 vote Tuesday night.
Before the $86,818,351 operating budget could be finalized, a state-mandated public hearing was held at the township council's caucus meeting. Members of the public – several aligned with the township Republican organization – criticized the majority Democrats on the council for not cutting taxes more than the approximately $176,000 cut from the tax levy this year.
The Democratic council members said they were proud of the 2012 municipal budget and were getting the town back on track after several years of mismanagement under an all-Republican council and administration.
"A hundred-thousand-dollar cut on an $86 million budget," said former Councilman Michael Thulen. "Honestly, I don't think you did the job that you said you were going to do."
"It's still better than what prior councils have been able to do," countered township resident Sam Foster, the next person to speak. "A cut is still a cut, and most importantly, it's a balanced budget with no tax increase."
Members of the public, council members and Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis all put in their two cents during the hearing, which eventually turned into an all-out debate on the April 2011 referendum that raised more than $8 million in taxes and allowed the township to exceed a state-mandated 2 percent tax levy cap.
"If we didn't do something as drastic as that referendum, we wouldn't be sitting up here today high-fiving each other about what a great job we did," said Councilman Joseph Sangiovanni.
Sangiovanni laid blame for the referendum and its resulting tax increase on several years of flat tax rates under the administration of former Democratic Mayor Joseph Scarpelli, accusing the former mayor of using "one shot" budget influxes to avoid increasing taxes as the township's financial picture worsened.
Council President John Ducey shot back that when former Democratic Mayor Daniel Kelly favored increasing taxes to put the township on a better financial footing, Republicans blasted the idea.
"It was a cumulative effect that caused the 24 percent increase," in taxes in 2011, Ducey said, blaming Republicans for mismanaging the township when they held the majority of seats on the governing body.
Township resident Skott Burkland, a member of the planning board, accused Democrats of re-funding the township's public works department because the Transport Workers Union endorsed the Democratic council members when they ran for election in November 2011.
Acropolis had proposed cutting the 2012 budget by more than $8 million and privatizing public works services, such as trash and recycling collection.
Brick TWU Shop Steward John Menshon, however, said the county Central Labor Council – not the local shop – made the endorsement.
"I would have voted the same way whether they voted for us or not," said Councilwoman Susan Lydecker, referencing the 2012 budget.
Lydecker later said she voted in favor of last year's referendum before having been elected to council.
"Without that referendum, we would have had cuts," said Acropolis, telling council members that his proposal to cut the amount raised by last year's referendum from this year's budget was meant to prove the need for the referendum.
Ducey accused Acropolis of "playing with a lot of people's livelihoods" in sending out layoff notices to public works employees to prove a point to Democratic council members. "And that's just wrong," he said .
Acropolis accused the Democratic council members of running against the referendum process, which Ducey said was incorrect.
The Democratic party neither endorsed nor opposed last year's referendum, though Democratic candidates criticized the tax hikes that resulted from it during campaign season.
"I would have much rather had a tax cut budget, but this council decided not to have a tax cut budget," said Acropolis.
Municipal taxes will remain flat in Brick this year. Homeowners will pay 63.6 cents per $100 of assessed real property valuation, the same rate as 2011.
That led Sangiovanni to cast the lone vote against the budget, saying he would have rather seen taxes cut.
The remaining six council members – four Democrats and two Republicans – voted in favor of the spending plan.
"I think it's a good budget," said Lydecker. "I think it's responsible, and I'm going to stand by it."
"I believe the residents of Brick deserve a break" from tax hikes, Ducey said, explaining his support for the budget.