With Mayor Dennis Elwell and Town Administrator Anthony Iacono at her side, Town Treasurer Peggy Barkala provided a budget breakdown for the approximately 60 residents in attendance at the meeting.
"The amount raised by taxes for this budget were $26.4 million," she began. "There were a couple of major increases in the budget. The gasoline fund is up 71 percent from last year," a mention of the $300,000 appropriated to fuel town vehicles in the 2006 budget. The budgetary year is based on the regular January to December calendar, not the June to July fiscal calendar, like most of the other Hudson County municipalities.
Barkala added that other significant increases in the budget centered on the pension payouts to former public safety employees, which includes firemen and policemen, and to the municipal employees' pension fund.
For public safety employees, the pension payouts rose from $251,000 to $485,000, a 92 percent increase. This sharp rise reflects the large number of recent retirements, said town officials. The 80 percent increase in town contributions to the municipal employees' pension fund registered at $126,000, up from $70,000 in 2005, which is also a demonstration of a similar retirement trend.
Tax-sharing plan mentioned
Overall, Secaucus officials seemed pleased with the budget. Iacono noted that the cost increase in the budget did not lead to a tax increase for the eighth straight year due to several factors. The town hotel tax is expected to raise at least additional $1.6 million in municipal revenue, a number close to the amount raised in recent years, with revenues possibly reaching as high as $2 million.
Also, a projected $75,000 surplus in the town capital improvement fund and the proceeds from the sale of town-owned properties also defrayed any budget cost increase that would have led to a possible tax increase.
Mayor Elwell also noted another important factor that has kept cost overruns under control.
"We successfully challenged the Hudson County government in terms of our payments to them," he said. "We challenged the county about the tax abatements in Jersey City. That challenge forced the county to share five percent of the abatement proceeds. That number reduced the amount of money Secaucus taxpayers had to send to the county."
Elwell hopes for more prospective tax relief in the future.
"We are continuing to lobby in Trenton to support a bill proposed by Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D - 32nd) that will relieve the town from paying the $3 million share we pay a year as part of the Meadowlands Commission tax-sharing fund," he said. "We believe that Secaucus taxpayers are paying too high of a burden in this plan, and we want to be treated equally."
In 1972, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) designed a system for the 14 towns under the commissions' jurisdiction to collect taxes. Prieto, who is also Secaucus town building inspector, is proposing a bill in Trenton that would eliminate the amount of taxes paid each year to the Meadowlands Commission.
"Last year, all of the Meadowlands Commission towns who put money into the pool paid out about $6 million. Of that number, Secaucus put in $3 million, or 50 percent. In my opinion, this is not equitable," he said during a recent interview with the Reporter.
In the bank
The mayor and council also unanimously approved the establishment of a "cap bank" for Secaucus. This entity allows for any funds left over from the state-mandated 2.5 percent budget increase cap or the 3.5 percent cost of living adjustment increase cap to be held over in a special fund that would lessen costs in case the following year's budget went over the cap due to a fiscal emergency or any other reason. This surplus could also help Secaucus to continue to not have to raise municipal taxes.
Police officers promoted
At the beginning of the town council meeting, Secaucus police officers Thomas Borrelli and Thomas O'Keeffe were both promoted to the rank of sergeant. Borrelli has served on the police force for 19 years, while O'Keeffe has been on the job for nearly 20 years. With friends and family looking on proudly, Borrelli was all smiles about his promotion.
"I feel great," he said. Meanwhile, O'Keeffe stated that he felt "excellent" about the day's events.