The average Brick homeowner would save about $245 per year if the township council were to enact Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis' proposed 2012 spending plan.
But the savings would come at a cost in the form of the township's public works department – including its 77 employees and public trash and recycling collection services for residents.
Acropolis presented his budget, which totals $82,141,131, to the township council on Tuesday night.
The spending plan would lower the municipal portion of one's property tax bill from 63.6 cents to 55.5 cents per $100 of assessed real property value, and would shave the entire budget by 7.4 percent.
The total amount of money by which taxes would be cut would total $8.6 million, and the average Brick homeowner would see the municipal portion of their tax bill decline from $1,927 to $1,682.
But residents and council members openly expressed disagreement with Acropolis' plan, saying voters approved extra spending in a referendum last year aimed at maintaining public services.
Some members of the public who came to the council's work session Tuesday – there was standing room only at the meeting – wondered if, eventually, a host of outsourced services would cost more than maintaining the DPW work force under the township.
"You cannot provide tax relief without service cuts," Acropolis said. "It's a choice."
Acropolis said 70 percent of New Jersey municipalities currently have privatized trash and recycling pickup, which would be eliminated in Brick if the DPW were to be eliminated.
"You cannot effectively cut taxes without looking at your employees," Acropolis said, adding that health insurance costs have been skyrocketing even though the township employs fewer people than ever before.
Business Administrator Scott Pezarras blamed the health insurance increases on provisions that require specific, higher-priced policies in public employee contracts.
"It's the highest cost we have in Brick Township, bar none. Our healthcare obligation alone for 2012 is $12 million," Acropolis said.
Acropolis said Brick residents demanded tax cuts in November 2011 by voting for a slate of four Democrats who, among other issues, campaigned on tax and spending concerns.
But some residents said Acropolis, who left the meeting after his presentation was finished, had them all wrong.
"Where does the mayor get the information that this is what the public wants?" asked resident Vic Fanelli.
The Effect on Residents
Former Republican Councilman Al Chrobocinski came out against the plan to cut DPW, saying that after some initial good deals, the price for residents to obtain private trash and recycling collection will skyrocket.
"Once you've gotten rid of all of your equipment, and all of your trucks … the vendors come back and they have you over a barrel," Chrobocinski said. "Once you get rid of the Department of Public Works, you no longer have a bargaining tool."
Pezarras said if the council were to adopt the mayor's spending plan and eliminate the DPW, residents would be responsible for contracting with a private hauler. While ordinances would call for each neighborhood to maintain its current 'garbage day,' different neighbors could conceivably contract with different haulers.
As for the current township-owned automated garbage cans issued to residents, the township would most likely do what Barnegat Township did when it switched to privatized service: collect the cans and resell them to another town.
Council President John Ducey said the cost savings is made less clear by the fact that not just garbage collection, but everything from the maintenance of police cars, to pot hole repair, to snow plowing, to street sign making would have to be outsourced. There also would be no one to operate the township recycling center on Ridge Road if the department was eliminated, he said.
"We want to have an opportunity to take a look, and keep those services for our town," Ducey said, calling the mayor's proposal an event that placed the town "back in a crisis."
Of those members of the public and elected officials who spoke at the meeting, none said they supported the mayor's plan, and nearly all came out squarely against it.
"It's just plain wrong to play politics on the backs of our loyal and dedicated public workers," said Councilman Dan Toth. "Just plain wrong."
"Our residents voted to keep these services intact, and I support that," he said.
Councilwoman Susan Lydecker said she agreed with those who describe the budget proposal as a "political ploy."
Councilman Jim Fozman called for a close look at the proposed budget, and said department heads should provide reports on budgets to the council at a public meeting.
"I am sure some bloated numbers will be found with each one," Fozman said.
"The workers as well as the people of Brick should not have to suffer due to the lack of oversight of the mayor and the previous council," he added.
What Happens Now?
Though the mayor presents a budget from his administration each year, the final decision on the annual spending plan – and, thus, the taxes to support that spending plan – are in the hands of the council.
Now that the budget has been proposed and copies have been provided to each council member, those elected officials will comb through the spending plan. They can accept it as is, add things to it or cut it further. The council has the ability to put the funding for the DPW back into the budget if it chooses.
"If the council decides to increase the budget by 8 cents, those types of things can be put back in the budget," Acropolis said during his presentation.
"The budget is in the council's hands," he said.