Stafford Township Adopts $39.7 Million Budget
Spending plan includes a total tax rate hike of 70.8 cents for the township, which is the smallest increase in at least 10 years, officials say.
The seven members of the Stafford Township council voted unanimously Monday to adopt the 2012 municipal budget.
The $39,682,363.13 budget is $744,251, or 1.91 percent larger than last year's $38.9 million figure, and will carry a tax rate of 70.8 cents per $100 for the township, which will translate into $2,127.26 per year on an average home assessed at $300,460.
"I've never seen a smaller percent increase — this is the lowest (increase) I've ever seen," said Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora, who has been on the council since 1988.
This budget is under the state-imposed expenditure cap by $2,259,636. The tax levy is $1,550,269 less than the maximum dictated by the state mandate.
One resident, Esther Libenschek, questioned the figures from the 67-page document, asking about costs for various curbing and other improvement projects listed. Township Administrator Jim Moran replied that the projects in question are projected costs, reflecting the township's goals for the future.
"The questions assumed that certain numbers were from the current budget, when in fact they are part of our ten-year plan," Moran told Patch.
Libenschek, 47, also asked whether Manahawkin might utilize more shared services, like its neighbor to the south.
"I happened to catch a Waretown street sweeper in Barnegat, and I was just curious, are we also benefiting from shared services?" Libenschek asked.
"Shared services is nothing new for Stafford Township," Moran said.
He said Stafford already performs building inspections for many of the towns on Long Beach Island, animal control functions for all of LBI and water and sewer services for Ship Bottom, and many other partnerships.
At the June 4 meeting, some township council officials asked questions regarding the budget as well, wanting to clarify certain facts and figures.
Councilman Robert Kusznikow asked why township employee wages and salaries have gone up in this year's budget, even though the township had lost about 30 employees over the last several years due to retirement.
"It's just that I couldn't comprehend that we're going up in salaries, even as we were losing all these people," Kusznikow said at the meeting.
"The township over the last four years has seen a gradual reduction of staff," Moran explained, adding that the township did not see this reduction in the last year.
"The budget saw the benefit of those retirements in prior years," Moran said, "but now we don't have that loss of staff. We have contracts that call for salary increases."
"We still have some benefit for the township; our staffing profile has become stable," added Moran.
"You've got contracted increases, you've got longevity increases from all these employees," Moran explained in reply to Kusznikow's concerns. "We're almost identical in totla budget in salaries and wages right now, as we were in 2009... so basically we've been able to keep the salary line item completely stable for the last three years."
One resident, Joe Mazzola, expressed his dissatisfaction with the council members questioning each other.
"It seems like we have a little bit of a problem," he said, expressing his frustration both with what he saw as the council's disagreement and with Mazzola's own lack of access to the figures the township officials were discussing before the public.
"I don't know what you have here," he said referring to the figures being discussed, so I totally disagree."
"This is wrong, that the council can't agree on a budget," Mazzola added, before walking out of the meeting.
Another resident got up to compliment the township council for their work on the budget.
"I would like to commend the mayor, the council and the administrator on this budget," said Joan Williams. "As a senior citizen on fixed income, I welcome this small increase, and I do consider it a small increase."
The budget was introduced to the public on April 16, and has since been available online.