Recycling costs biggest driver of 2020 Old Bridge municipal budget

OLD BRIDGE – Recycling costs that municipal officials said are outside the township’s control are the biggest increase driving the 2020 Old Bridge municipal budget.

Township Council members adopted a $59.1 million budget after a second reading and public hearing on March 16. The budget increases municipal taxes and municipal library taxes by $28 from $1,630 in 2019 to $1,658 in 2020 for the average home in Old Bridge assessed at $154,390.

A higher assessed value of an individual’s home and/or property will yield a higher municipal property tax payment.

Mayor Owen Henry said that this year, officials had to address some hurdles outside their control.

“We mentioned publicly the recycling increase we had to absorb in our budget overall,” he said.

Himanshu Shah, chief financial officer, said officials tried to go out for the bid, which came in at a higher rate than Middlesex County.

In January, township officials proposed a bid package to see if they could get a better rate per household than the county’s new proposed rate.

The Middlesex County Improvement Authority (MCIA) provides bi-weekly curbside recycling collection for Old Bridge through Solterra Recycling.

Paul Matacera, director of recycling for the county, presented proposed rate increases for the upcoming recycling contract at a Township Council meeting in December.

Matacera said county officials approved a $6.9 million bid in November for Solterra Recycling to continue recycling services for the next five years. He explained while Solterra Recycling was the only viable bidder, the county did receive inquiries from Republic Waste and from Waste Management.

The new contract was expected to begin on March 31.

Kyle Harris, director of public works for Old Bridge, has said the 2019 recycling contract totals $538,000. The proposed MCIA contract for 2020 will be prorated three months and total approximately $1 million, and the proposed 2021 recycling contract is expected to total $1.2 million.

The “other expenditure” category in the budget has increased by $240,582 from $17.95 million in 2019 to $18.2 million in 2020. The major increase under the expenditure category is recycling, which increased by $460,454.

Matacera said when he began working for the county in June 2018, he put together a team to face what he called the monumental change in the cost of recycling efforts. The majority of the increase is the cost of disposing of the collected recyclable materials safely, he has said.

Old Bridge officials will collect $35.1 million in taxes from Old Bridge’s residential and commercial property tax owners in 2020 to help fund the municipal budget.

The budget that was adopted in 2019 totaled $57.41 million and included a $34.31 million tax levy. From 2019 to 2020, the total budget is up $1.68 million and the total amount to be collected from taxpayers is up $752,969 (2.19%).

Old Bridge will receive $6.27 million in state aid for 2020. Officials said state aid has remained flat since 2011. Officials will use $7 million from surplus funds (savings) as revenue in the budget in 2020, after using $7 million from surplus as revenue in the 2019 budget.

Henry said he would be remiss if he did not thank everyone who participated in the process of developing the budget. Municipal officials held three public workshop meetings to discuss the spending plan.

Henry said the final budget number is a little under what Old Bridge was spending in 2011.

“We are doing a lot more than we did in 2011,” the mayor said, adding that the goal is to continue improving services.

Shah noted that for the past two years, one of municipal officials’ non-financial goals was to improve customer service. He said due to the efforts of employees in various departments, the feedback regarding customer services has been positive.

Municipal taxes are one item on a property owner’s total tax bill, which also includes Old Bridge school taxes, Middlesex County taxes, a library tax and a fire district tax.

The amount of taxes an individual pays is determined by the assessed value of his home and/or property and the tax rate that is set by each taxing entity.

Municipal taxes account for 19% of the total taxes that are paid by a property owner, Shah said.

Shah said salaries and wages make up 39.63% of the municipal budget. That line item has increased by $369,908, or 1.61%, from $23.05 million in 2019 to $23.41 million in 2020.

Public safety (includes police) is the largest department/expenditure percentage of the budget at 24.21%, or $14.3 million.

In addition to contractual increases and minimum wage increases, the 2020 budget includes funding for one new full-time position in the police department – a patrol officer; one new part-time position in OBTV – a public information coordinator; and additional funding for seasonal employees in the Department of Public Works and the Code Enforcement Department, Shah said.

During the public portion of the meeting, a resident asked if the novel coronavirus pandemic had any impact on the 2020 budget.

Shah said that as of now, the pandemic has had a limited impact on the budget.

“Obviously what we are seeing now [are] life changing events … and what impact it’s going to have on our financial position only the future will tell,” he said.

Shah noted that since state officials declared a state of emergency, Old Bridge officials expect to receive funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support township needs.

“There are avenues to handle emergencies,” he said. “When it comes further down the road if we have to suspend services or stop operations, we’ll see how that impacts [the township]. If we do need additional funding at the end of the year, the township has an option to adopt an emergency appropriation to address those [matters]. As of now, we haven’t seen a major impact yet. We are hoping federal funding will be available to support the municipality.”

If the budget did not reflect the impact of the pandemic as of yet, aspects of the Township Council meeting on March 16 did.

The meeting was held with council members sitting in every other seat on the dais, with no public attendance. Residents were permitted to call in and ask questions. The meeting was streamed live on YouTube.

Township Attorney Mark Roselli said the state Division of Finance and Local Services allowed the process.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.