Town budget has 2.94-cent
by Lauren Bucci, Gazette
HAMMONTON—Council introduced and
passed first reading of its 2014 General and
Utility Budget at this month’s regular meeting
of town council on April 14.
According to town CFO Rob Scharle, the proposed
budget would increase $175,000 from last year,
resulting in a 2.94-cent increase for the
taxpayers of the town.
“The current fund right now is basically
$175,000 more than it was last year…This budget,
as proposed, has a 2.94-cent tax increase,”
The 2.94-cent increase will be for property tax
and there will be no increase to water and sewer
rates, Mayor Stephen DiDonato said after the
Rising health care costs and acquired debt
service are the two primary reasons for the
increase, according to Scharle.
“Two primary reasons for that, one is health
care, our health insurance increased $228,000
this year, roughly a 14.04 percent
increase….also your debt service, that increased
from $62,370. That’s a total of $290,000
increase when the total budget is only going up
$175 [thousand],” Scharle said.
Scharle noted that the debt service increase was
largely due to the Green Acres project at the
Boyer Avenue site.
“Basically the debt service increase was due to
[the] Green Acres project that you accomplished
over there on Boyer Avenue and that represents a
majority of the debt service increase,” Scharle
According to Scharle the budget is very tight
from both a revenue and appropriations
“I have to say it’s a really tight budget, you
have a really tight budget here from a revenue
standpoint and an appropriations standpoint,”
The town did see a decrease in pension costs due
to a revaluation ordered by the governor
according to Scharle.
“Pension went down a little bit… we received
relief…the governor ordered a new evaluation of
that and when that reval came in, roughly two
weeks ago, we received a little bit of relief,”
The town has also seen a decrease in its surplus
account according to Scharle.
“Outside that fund balance you have $41,000 less
in surplus this year than you had available to
utilize last year in this year’s budget,”
Scharle attributed the decrease in surplus and
increase in taxes to increased healthcare costs
and insufficient state funding.
“If you look at 2006 to now we’ve lost $500,000
in state aid, now the last four years it’s been
stable, it’s been consistent, but with rising
healthcare costs as I just mentioned and just
alluded to, the state’s not keeping up with
their share to us as far as what we need to run
our town. So what happens is, we have to use
surplus, we have to raise taxes to keep up with
those increased costs,” Scharle said.
The utility fund went up approximately $95,000
mostly due to debt service, according to Scharle.
“For the utility fund, the utilities funds
basically only went up about $95,000. Most of
that is debt service,” Scharle said.
The town also had the option of establishing an
increased appropriation cap, which would allow
the town to bank $262,000 in cap bank room, not
in money spent, for a two-year period, according
“Right now you’d have the ability to increase
that [appropriation cap] for two years down the
line if you needed it. Do you have to use it?
No, you don’t have to, but, however, you have
one opportunity to bank $262,000 in cap room,
not in money spent,” Scharle said.
Without establishing the cap bank, the town
would have $535,000 of appropriation cap room
from the 2013 bank, according to Scharle.
“So next year you have from the 2013 bank, you
have $535,000,” Scharle said.
Councilman Edward Wuillermin originally made a
motion to establish the appropriation cap bank,
seconded by Councilman Paul Esposito, but later
rescinded the motion, along with Esposito,
feeling it could wait to be addressed next year.
“Being fiscally conservative, we have been
trying to put a rein in on the amount of
spending that we would allow ourselves and
future councils to enjoy so to speak, but I’m
just concerned that we don’t put ourselves in a
box. But, if there is enough there, potentially,
going forward to get us through next year’s
budget and to make that decision next year for
the following year and still have that
opportunity… I would consider rescinding that
motion if Paul [Esposito] would make that
second, and address the issue next year,”
The May 19 meeting of mayor and council will
include the public budget hearing and Councilman
Dan Bachalis feels it is important to discuss
the budget in detail and ensure the public is
aware of what is happening. The May 19 meeting
was originally scheduled for May 20 but was
changed during the April 14 meeting to May 19.
“I think we need to have a really, a much more
detailed discussion of this to make sure
everybody in the public understands,” Bachalis
Council passed the second reading of an
ordinance establishing an energy and natural gas
aggregation program. The ordinance allows the
town to explore the different firms that handle
aggregation programs, but does not establish a
specific entity or guarantee the town will move
“This ordinance only gives us the ability to
look at different firms that are approved by DCA
and the pilot program, interview those firms and
have a series of other public meetings and
forums to explain all the details of what would
be involved should the town decide to go
forward… but no decision is being made tonight
as to whether we’re going to select a particular
entity or whether we’re even going to
participate in the program,” Wuillermin said.
Should the town move forward with the
aggregation, it will be an “opt-out” program
meaning any resident purchasing their electric
from Atlantic City Electric would automatically
be changed over to purchasing from the third
party supplier chosen by the town with the
option of opting out, according to DiDonato.
“It’s an ‘opt-out’ program… If you’re buying
your electric from Atlantic [City] Electric,
you’d be a part of the program,” DiDonato said.
Hammonton resident Bud Paynter went before
council to express his concerns about
“You have a lot of senior citizens in the town,
myself included, a lot of times the paperwork
and the opting in and opting out are very
confusing and my concern is that if this is only
for one year....there’s going to be this
continuation of opting in, opting out. I think
it’s going to be a very confusing process for a
lot of people,” Paynter said.
He also expressed that he felt Atlantic City
Electric provided adequate service and deserved
the opportunity to supply the town’s electric.
“I feel that we get our service from Atlantic
[City] Electric which usually is pretty good,
they deserve the opportunity to have our
purchase of power from them,” Paynter said.
DiDonato reported that some more facts were
needed before determining whether or not this
type of program was beneficial for the town and
“We’re going to need to get more facts, I think
even those up here have a lot of questions, just
in the closed session council was very split…I
think we all have a lot of questions to answer,
we don’t know if it’s a good or a bad program at
this point,” DiDonato said.
Councilman Thomas Gribbin wanted to clear up
some confusion surrounding the program and
stated that it was purely for the benefit of the
residents, not the town municipal government.
“This is a program that is for the residents,
not a program that the town would enter into for
any type of benefit to the town municipal
government itself,” Gribbin said.
Interim Public Works Manager/Business
Administrator Jerome Barberio requested that the
administration committee be given the
responsibility of choosing a consultant for the
“I’d like to request to mayor that the admin
committee be charged with picking an aggregation
consultant based on the NJ DCA fee procurement
program vendor list,” Barberio said.
Wuillermin stated that he would like the process
of choosing a consultant to be more
“I would like to have that to be a
publicly-vetted process, I’d like to have all
the vendors make a presentation and I would like
to make sure we explore all the advantages to
the consumers of our town,” Wuillermin said.
It was decided that the administration committee
would be responsible for setting up that process
and would report back to council at the Special
Meeting of mayor and council to be held on April
“Let’s send it to admin… and we’ll report back
on the 28th of April,” DiDonato said.
Town solicitor Brian Howell reported to council
that a notice was received about an appeal filed
by the applicants for the Wawa Food Market and
Fuel Station, which was denied by the town’s
“We received notice… the application of the
Super Wawa there at [Route] 54 and [Route] 30
that application was denied. They have now filed
an appeal and we need to respond to that,”
According to Howell, the legal defense would
have to be taxpayer-funded.
“That kind of legal defense would not be covered
by insurance,” Howell said.
Council authorized planning and zoning board
attorney Michael Malinksy to handle the defense
for an estimate not to exceed $5,000 upon
“We need to defend that lawsuit… my
recommendation would be to have the planning and
zoning attorney Mr. Malinsky handle that
defense. I conferred with him, he indicates that
his estimate would be not to exceed $5,000… if
all goes according to plan I have no doubt that
he’ll stay within that budget,” Howell said.
Gribbin recused himself on the matter.
The town authorized the Feast of Our Lady of Mt.
Carmel procession, carnival and fireworks to be
held July 14 to July 19. Fireworks are scheduled
for July 16 with a rain date of July 19,
according to the agenda.
Also passed was a resolution supporting the Open
Government Records Act at all levels of
government which calls for “all levels of
government to maintain transparency in order to
demonstrate the openness and honesty of its