Wrapping up the fiscal year

North Bergen Board of Commissioners adopt the 2019 budget

North Bergen commissioners voted to adopt the municipal budget for the 2019 fiscal year.
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North Bergen commissioners voted to adopt the municipal budget for the 2019 fiscal year.

At the recent North Bergen Board of Commissioners meeting, the governing body adopted the municipal budget for the 2019 fiscal year, totaling $98,267,655, a 2.6 percent increase in spending over last year’s budget of $95,767,526.

The 2019 municipal tax levy, the portion of the budget raised from taxes on property owners, is up by 1.31 percent, but still below the state-mandated cap of 2 percent. The average home will see a $48 increase in annual property taxes. The budget is also roughly $2.2 million below the cap allowed for capital improvement funding. State approval is required for increases above 2 percent.

Township Administrator Chris Pianese highlighted key projects and revenue sources that will affect the budget.

Pianese explained the 2.6 percent increase in the overall budget by citing increases in town employees’ health benefits which total $13.7 million for 2019. pensions, capital improvements, and tax appeals, which the town aims to stay on top of.

The municipality paid out $450,513.88 in 2018 tax appeals. This year, 6.45 percent of the budget will be used to cover other outstanding debts.

“This is the highest surplus the township has ever had.” — Chris Pianese

Township employment has remained stable, at 532 employees in municipal positions versus last year’s 530. Total personnel salaries for township employees are $40,719,226.91. This includes the governing body, department heads and managers, police and fire officials, and all other union and nonunion employees.

Pianese said that the town currently holds a surplus of $14.8 million in tax revenue from last year which can be applied to this year’s budget.

“This is the highest surplus the township has ever had,” Pianese said, explaining that a portion of the surplus will be used to reduce the taxes residents pay in 2019. “We’ve done it every year. We’ll be using a little bit more than usual this year because you don’t want to sit on that. It’s important to give some back and keep the tax rate stable.”

Pianese cited conservative budgeting as the reason that, over 10 years, the town has reached a very desirable Aa2 rating from Moody’s Investor Service. That rating allows the township to borrow money at relatively low interest rates.

“It was kind of scary back in ’92,” Pianese said. “We almost had junk bond status. The past 10 years brought us into a category three notches from the highest rating we can get, a rating that I believe we share only with the county.”

The improvement came despite consistent decreases in state funding since 2008, Pianese said.

Funding from PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) plans, offered to developers as incentives, increased by 36 percent. Pianese said construction projects will likely increase the amount generated for the township in PILOT funds.

The budget announcement also included information on school, county, and open space levies. The estimated school district levy is $51,865,000, the estimated county levy is $27,625,000, and the estimated open space levy is $627,000.

Department highlights

Pianese also described a range of municipal services funded by the budget.

The Public Affairs Department now has an online help desk, which takes about 700 resident requests annually. Municipal employees respond within 48 hours. NB C.A.R.E.S. (Community Assistance Relief Events and Support) grew this year. It gave away 1,900 turkeys, 1,100 meals for seniors, and 2,000 toys during the holiday season, as well as 550 backpacks for local students. NB C.A.R.E.S. has a fully-stocked food pantry for residents in need.

Public Affairs offers a medical transportation service for residents. According to Pianese, about 100 residents are transported to medical facilities by the township on a weekly basis. Emergency medical escorts will continue to be coordinated with the police department.

The Parks and Public Property Department is restoring or constructing seven town parks. Six other parks, including the municipal pool, are being given face lifts throughout the year, many in time for the summer season. A new Recreation Center/ Library complex is slated to break ground in the next few weeks.

Department of Public Works Commissioner Frank Gargiulo reported that more than 100 blocks were repaved in the past year. He expects 30 blocks to be resurfaced in 2019. The town decided to have the DPW restore the red brick roadway on 75th street rather than give the job to an outside bidder, which saved the township more than one $1 million, Pianese said. This year, the DPW introduced a broom-and-barrel program, in which workers pick up trash on routes throughout town. Those workers also respond to resident complaints.

The police department currently has the highest number of personnel in history with 136 officers, and there is a police officer in every North Bergen School.

Taxpayer money went to fleet upgrades as well. The township purchased a new salt spreader truck for the DPW, an ambulance, a medical van, and three 4 x 4 patrol vehicles for the police department.

This year’s budget may still be subject to change. At the next board of commissioners meeting on April 10, a vote will be held to increase the budget by 3.5 percent, to the tune of $2,336,185.08, in excess of the state’s Local Government Cap Law. The ordinance must be filed with the director of the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services as part of that approval process.

A presentation of some CY2019 budget highlights is available at www.northbergen.org.

Bag it up

At the budget meeting, the Board of Commissioners also introduced a resolution on controlling pet waste that will be up for a vote on April 10. The resolution cited a need to increase the fines that pet owners face if they don’t clean their pets’ waste from sidewalks and public property.

Upon the passing of that resolution, those who fail to clean up pet waste can face to up to $200 for each violation.

For updates on this and more stories keep checking www.hudsonreporter.com, or follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com.