By KAYLA J. MARSH
HAZLET — The Township Committee has unanimously adopted a $21.2 million budget that reflects a zero percent increase on the municipal purposes tax levy.
Chief Financial Officer Thomas O’Hara said that the total budget for this year is $21,189,749.76.
When the budget was first introduced in early April, O’Hara said it included a tax levy of $13,923,000 which, “is the exact same as it was in 2015.”
The budget also includes a municipal tax rate of 60.3 cents per $100 of assessed value, down 1.95 percent from last year’s rate of 61.5 cents.
The owner of a home valued at the township average of $297,397 is expected to pay $1,793.30 in municipal taxes — about $3.65 more for the year.
The municipal budget is well below the state-mandated 2 percent levy cap and remains in full conformance with the state levy cap law.
“This budget is $2,315,920 below the state-mandated tax levy cap,” O’Hara said previously.
But the adoption of the budget did come with some controversy.
While all members of the five-member, Republican-controlled governing body voted “yes” to adopt the budget at the Township Committee’s May 3 meeting, the two Democrat members, who were not in attendance at the meeting the budget was first introduced in April, offered explanations for their decisions.
“I have served on this Township Committee for 10 years, three years as mayor,” Committeeman James DiNardo said. “Regardless of who had the majority, I took pride in the fact that all members were included in the budget process.
“This year was different. This budget was drafted behind closed doors.”
DiNardo said he felt he and fellow Democratic committee member Barbara Ronchetti were excluded from the final budget meeting.
“Had I been invited, I would have pointed out that this budget increases government spending on salaries and expenses at a time when homeowners are struggling,” he said. “This budget may be flat, but it’s irresponsible.
“We could have cut municipal taxes for residents. Instead, we are protecting the status quo … we could have done better for the people of Hazlet.”
Committeewoman Barbara Ronchetti agreed, stating that she was not happy with this year’s process.
“The budget in front of us may not increase the burden on homeowners, but it increases spending through the use of nonrecurring revenue,” she said. “We are actually spending more on excessive salary increases and other expenses.”
Ronchetti agreed with DiNardo in feeling excluded from final budget meetings.
“We could have made cuts [and] could have reduced municipal taxes [and] Committeeman DiNardo and I came to the table with a set of proposals that would have done so,” she said. “Instead, we were excluded from the final budget meeting.
“This is not how this Township Committee should work. We should work together. I was disappointed in this year’s process. It is not the same process that we have used [and] I know it is possible to lower taxes [and] next year I hope that I have the opportunity, along with the committee, to do so. In the meantime, I vote yes to a flat budget.”
Mayor Scott Aagre who previously said the adopted budget is a combination of streamlining items and going through the budget line by line and maintaining “current or below last year’s cost items,” took a moment to respond to the committee members’ comments.
“Before I vote ‘yes’ I am going to take exception to both Committeeman DiNardo’s and Committeewoman Ronchetti’s comments,” he said.
“We had six budget meetings, there were numerous items to discuss, one of them saved money and brought it down to zero. I would just like to say … during the process this past month the budget has been out there and introduced, questions have been brought up about where certain things came from so I still vote ‘yes.’”