Joseph F. Berenato
Council passes budget
HAMMONTON—Town council voted to pass the 2022 budget, representing a one-cent increase to taxpayers, at their regular meeting on June 20.
“We’re going to have a public hearing on the COLA ordinance and the budget,” Mayor Stephen DiDonato said, referring to the public hearing of Ordinance No. 015-2022 – COLA Ordinance Establish CAP Bank and Resolution No. 080-2022, Adopting the 2022 Budget.
According to the language of the ordinance, Local Government Cap Law provides that, “in the preparation of its annual budget, a municipality shall limit any increase in said budget up to 2.5 percent unless authorized by ordinance to increase it to 3.5 percent over the previous year’s final appropriations, subject to certain exceptions.”
“In the CY 2022 budget year, the final appropriations of the Town of Hammonton shall, in accordance with this ordinance and N.J.S.A. 40A: 4-45.14, be increased by 3.5 percent, amounting to $374,506.54, and that the CY 2022 municipal budget for the Town of Hammonton be approved and adopted in accordance with this ordinance,” the ordinance states.
According to Resolution No. 080-2022, the anticipated operating surplus is $2,118.000. Miscellaneous revenues are anticipated to be $3,081,613.37, and receipts from delinquent taxes are anticipated to be $2,700. The amount to be raised by taxation for municipal purposes will be $9,991,581.24.
General appropriations within CAPS include: operations, including contingent, $10,103,340.22; deferred charges and statutory expenditures—municipal, $1,241,808. Appropriations excluded from CAPS include: total operations, $50,235.95; capital improvements, $175,000; municipal debt service, $2,461,263; reserve for uncollected taxes, $1,162,247.44.
The total budget amount is $15,193,894.61.
At the meeting, Robert Scharle, Hammonton’s Chief Financial Officer, said that there were several items in the budget over which the town has had no control.
“I think everybody’s dealing with the gasoline issue right now throughout the state, throughout the country and throughout the world. Right now, our gasoline increase is $89,000 over the last year—almost double; a little bit over double last year,” Scharle said.
Scharle said that the town’s recycling contract is another issue.
“That also increased another $82,000 over the last year—another 39 percent,” Scharle said.
Health benefits also increased, Scharle said.
“That didn’t go down, either; up another $256,000 over the prior year—another almost 20 percent,” Scharle said.
Additionally, Scharle said that pension obligations increased seven percent, totaling an additional $67,900.
“Just those four items alone, we have no control over. Those items alone are a $504,000 increase over the prior year,” Scharle said.
These increases, Scharle said, are the reason for Ordinance No. 015-2022, authorizing the 3.5 percent increase of the budget.
“Fortunately, we had a decent year last year, so we’re able to contribute another $298,000 in surplus to help offset some of that $504,000—and I’m not even talking about salary or other increases; I’m just talking about major increases that we don’t have any control over,” Scharle said.
Scharle said that the increase in expenditures is responsible for the one-cent increase to taxpayers.
“Do we like penny increases? No ... But, unfortunately, we have no control over some of those costs,” Scharle said.
Scharle said that the town is at its appropriation cap.
“Unfortunately, the state hasn’t given us any more money for the last 12 years. We’ve received the same amount from the state for 12 years in a row—so it’s all on us,” Scharle said.
Scharle also discussed the utility fund, adding that there has been a moratorium on collecting on delinquent water and sewer bills.
“Our receivables in 2020 went from $200,000 to $400,000. Most of those are the people that didn’t pay in 2020; they didn’t pay that balance, and they didn’t pay in 2021,” Scharle said.
That moratorium, Scharle said, was lifted in March of this year.
“Now we’re able to go after those receivables, thank God, because now we’re down to $100,000 in our surplus in the utility. We’re getting by—thank God we had some debt service fall off in the utility, which saved us in the utility budget this year—but we’re just getting by, in both the current fund from an appropriations standpoint and in the utility from a revenue standpoint,” Scharle said.
Scharle summarized his comments.
“I wish I had better news. I’m thrilled that we were able to keep it at just a one-cent increase,” Scharle said.
Councilman Edward Wuillermin asked about collecting on delinquent water and sewer bills, and Scharle said that they can go out for tax sale.
“That don’t mean anybody’s going to foreclose on you, and I think people have a misunderstanding about what that really means. What it means is that some other entity can go and ensure an interest rate, and pay that delinquent balance. What happens is, that means the homeowner still has the ability to pay it, but they’re going to pay it at the interest rate that it was bid on,” Scharle said.
Wuillermin said that will help the utility fund “realize the back rents.”
“That will help us off of being in jeopardy of not being able to meet our obligations which is the most important thing that we’ve got to get to,” Wuillermin said.
Councilman Steven Furgione also spoke on the matter.
“In the early part of 2020, we pulled the reins in hard on spending on the utility, and I think when we hit September we held back on $80,000 or $100,000 in spending, not knowing where it would go, but I’m glad we did,” Furgione said.
“In 2020, we realized a deficit of $96,000. When you realize a deficit, like in 2020, you have to raise that deficit in the next year’s budget. Thank God you did that, because this year we only realized a deficit of $35,000. That helped us again in the 2022 budget in being able to balance that budget,” Scharle said.
Furgione commented further.
“Once we get the money collected from the utility, that’ll make us not only self-liquidating but it’ll start improving our surplus. We should start really improving our surplus in 2023; 2023, I think, is the last year of the sewer plant payment,” Furgione said.
“Our debt drops off dramatically. I don’t know exactly; I think it’s another $1 million a year,” DiDonato said.
Furgione also inquired about future COVID-19 relief money from the federal government, and Scharle said that the funds will run through 2024.
“We didn’t want to have a majority of it this year; we wanted to try to spread it out over three years. That way, it levels the playing field a little bit, so you can use it in 2023 and 2024. We’re reserving those funds to be utilized for the same level that we have this year,” Scharle said, adding that the 2022 funds should be received in July.
After discussion, council voted to adopt and publish the ordinance and to adopt the resolution, passing the budget unanimously.
In related financial matters, council held the public hearing of Bond Ordinance No. 013-2022 – 224 Vine Street/Municipal Building Improvements.
According to the ordinance, for the General Capital Fund, the total appropriations are as follows: demolition of town-owned buildings to construct a new parking lot at 224 Vine St.—total, $175,000; authorization, $166,250; capital improvement fund, $8,750. Various improvements to the municipal building—total, $175,000; authorization, $166,250; capital improvement fund, $8,750. Total appropriation, $350,000; total authorization, $332,500; total capital improvement fund, $17,500.
For the Utility Capital Fund, the total appropriations are: Asset Management Plan for Utility Equipment Purchases—total, $40,000; authorization, $38,000; capital improvement fund, $2,000.
Council also held the public hearing of Bond Ordinance No. 014-2022 – Utility Asset Management Plan, appropriating $40,000 and authorizing the issuance of $38,000 in bonds or notes of the town to finance part of the costs.
According to the ordinance, the improvements to be financed include the planning and design of an asset management plan for utility equipment purchases for the Utility Department.
Both ordinances were adopted and published.
Later in the meeting, while presenting the report for the Quality of Life Committee for Councilman Jonathan Oliva—who was absent—Wuillermin said that the Historic Preservation Commission recently received a grant to upgrade their walking tour of the town.
“They want to provide a great deal of visual enhancements. They’ve been working with Stockton State College to complete that task,” Wuillermin said.
Wuillermin introduced Commissioners Angela Donio and Barbara Neary, who explained further.
“We did get a grant. We went for $5,000 but we got $3,600, so that makes a big difference in what we’re planning to do,” Donio said.
Donio described goals of the Commission, including updating printed materials, new pictures of historic building and an updated web presence with Stockton University. Wuillermin asked for financial details.
“If we can just get to the amount of money you had, the project and total value, how much in-kind services and what you need?” Wuillermin said.
“We knew your budget was bad, so we’re not going to ask for more money. We’re hoping we get the $1,200,” Donio said.
One of the projects, Donio said, is to place their brochure in tourist kiosks throughout the state in an effort to attract tourists to Hammonton.
Councilman Thomas Gribbin inquired about the price to print the brochures, and Neary replied.
“The CTM Media Group requires 10,000 of these to be printed. We did get a quote of $1,350 to print 10,000, which was actually a pretty good price. Then, CTM Media, they take responsibility for filling the tourist information kiosks around the state, and they keep the statistics—how many have been taken—and they refill the kiosks as needed,” Neary said.
The statistics, Donio said, were particularly important.
“With this grant, they want to know how many people are seeing it,” Donio said.
DiDonato said that council would investigate the viability of providing the necessary funds, and Donio replied that they had to ensure that slots in the kiosks were still available.
“The right answer, Angela, is ‘thank you and we appreciate it,’” Wuillermin said.
“Says the man who can drone on better than anybody,” Donio said.
“See if there’s a slot open, and get back to us—because, unfortunately, we’re not able to do the July 4 fireworks this year, because the gentleman who was going to do it needed to get his certification. He has since got his certification, but, unfortunately, it wasn’t in enough time that the company could do the fireworks, so we may have something that we could do there,” DiDonato said.
Neary said that it wasn’t “a huge amount of money.”
“It’s for a six-month contract. We need to implement the project by the end of December,” Neary said.
“See if there’s a slot, and let us know,” he said.
Town council will hold a special meeting on July 6 at 6 p.m. The next regular meeting of council will be held on July 25 at 7 p.m.