Weehawken holds hearing for 2023 budget totaling over $56 million

However, the budget was not adopted pending changes from the state

Weehawken has held a public hearing on its 2023 budget totaling $56,562,190. Mayor Richard Turner and the Township Council did so at its Nov. 21 meeting.

This comes after they introduced the budget and sent it to the state Local Finance Board for approval in October. At the November meeting, the budget was not adopted because the township was waiting to hear back from the state.

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“We’re just having the hearing, we’re not adopting,” Turner said. “We’re waiting to get clarification on some items from Trenton.”

The budget runs for the fiscal year from July 1 to June 30. This year’s budget is up from last year‘s budget of $48,632,319.

However, Turner said this was only a large increase due to last year’s budget being low because of COVID-19 relief funds. This budget is only a slight increase from pre-pandemic budgets, according to Turner.

“It’s up from last year, only because of COVID-19,” Turner previously told the Hudson Reporter. “It’s not up much at all from pre-pandemic. But during the pandemic, things were shifted due to all the federal aid programs that we got. We got all the COVID-19 funds, so we shifted expenses to those funds. But the budget is only slightly up.”

Things are returning to normal within the budget as the financial impacts from the pandemic slowly fade and the relief funds dry up. According to Turner, this is the first real budget in years absent of relief funds to address revenue shortfalls from COVID-19.

“It was artificially reduced when we got COVID-19 funds, because you charged against those funds,” Turner said. “But now that’s all ending. So we’re restructuring back to a regular budget … It’s bringing the budget back to where it would have been if it wasn’t for the pandemic.”

Small municipal tax increase in February and May bills

The township is raising $2 million more in overall municipal taxes, resulting in an average increase of $40 to $45 for homeowners the first half of the year. That means for the February and May tax bills.

That estimated $40 to $45 marks a roughly 1.2 percent increase from last year. The tax bills for August and November will be determined by the next budget next year.

Turner said, usually, the tax bills for August and November are lower than the other two. Depending on the difference, the tax increase may actually be negated.

According to Turner, the township is still recovering from the financial impacts of COVID-19, with miscellaneous revenues in this budget. Certain key revenues in the township are still not up to snuff compared to pre-pandemic, including parking revenue, hotel revenue, court fees and hundreds of thousands in miscellaneous revenues. But things are trending upward, Turner said..

“We’re down about $350,000 in miscellaneous revenue from pre-pandemic,” Turner said. “We were down millions before. The shortfalls were made up by the funds we received from the federal government. Now we’re restoring everything in the budget. It’s a hard budget to compare it to because you’ve had 2021 and 2022 shifting costs to the money we received from the federal government, which helps stabilize our taxes.”

Despite everything, Turner said his administration had kept the tax levy roughly the same for the last three years. He said this was due to stimulus funds and COVID-19 funds that offset lost revenue.

“Now we’re slowly getting back to normal,” Turner said. “Hopefully we’ll pick up the other $350,000 or $400,000 as things go forward.”

Cap bank allows more than 2 percent increase

At its November meeting, the council also adopted an ordinance establishing a CAP bank, relating to the increase in the amount of overall budget appropriations. Turner said that Weehawken’s budgets are traditionally 2 percent or less of an increase, averaging about 2.27 percent over the last four years in spending increases.

“This allows us to spend a higher amount that’s in our budget and it lets us bank the difference for future years,” Turner said at the meeting.

Turner said appropriations were increased this year to address an anticipated increase in state health benefits and pensions.

“A lot of that has to do with health benefits and pensions … whether it’s going to be a 24 percent increase or less,” Turner previously told the Hudson Reporter. “That’s why we made cuts in other areas to offset pensions and health benefits that are going up dramatically.”

Some other things baked into the budget include the hiring of eight to 10 new police officers when the township gets a new civil service list from which it hires. Turner said that if the increase in state health benefits and pensions is not as high as anticipated, the funds allotted for that can be moved elsewhere.

“We are planning to hire police when we get a new police list,” Turner said. “We’re down about 10 police officers and we have no police list now.

Otherwise, Turner said the budget was pretty stable. If the revenues hold and continue to increase, he said the township should be in a better position for the next budget.

“For three years, we held the tax levy even,” Turner said. “That tax bill also includes schools and county, but on our end, we’ve held it pretty level. We hope to be able to continue to do that.”

Looking forward to 2024 budget

Turner concluded that the budget was “sound” and “solid.” He hopes things continue to go in that direction for the next budget as the township forges ahead financially post-pandemic.

“We feel it’s a good, solid budget,” Turner said. “Again, it’s a restructuring budget. If you move expenditures out, you’ve got to move expenditures back in. We have to go back to 2019 and 2020 to do any real comparison, because 2021 and 2022 were artificial appropriation budgets when you could shift everything to the federal funds.”

The budget may be adopted at the next Township Council meeting. That will be on Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. at Town Hall at 400 Park Ave. and streamed virtually. For more information, go to weehawken-nj.us.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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