METUCHEN – When Melissa Perilstein began her role as borough administrator in March, a proposed 2020 municipal budget was already set to be introduced at a council meeting.
Then the novel coronavirus pandemic hit and the proposed municipal budget was revised twice since.
“We were able to take about $94,000 out of the appropriation side,” Perilstein said, calling the budget “lean and mean” after Mayor Jonathan Busch asked for a freeze in spending. “Each department went back in and reviewed what they had in [the budget].”
Perilstein said some of the appropriations taken out of the budget include $25,000 from the police department for two new vehicles, $16,000 from sewer, $14,000 from fire, $10,000 from street and roads, $10,000 from buildings and grounds, $11,200 from forestry and $8,000 from METV, the borough public access channel.
Perilstein, along with Becky Cuthbert, chief financial officer for the borough, presented the $22.5 million 2020 municipal budget at a Borough Council meeting on July 13, which comes after many back and forth adjustments. Usually the final adoption of the budget takes place in May.
“We wanted to maintain what people come to expect as far as services in Metuchen, but also be very, very cognizant of the fact that there is a major economic event which impacted our revenues,” Perilstein said. “It was worth waiting to see where revenue fell.”
The borough is estimating a $500,000 loss of revenue from the parking authority and municipal court. The borough has used an estimated $102,000 to cover costs related to COVID-19, including facemasks, sanitizer, cleaning products, professional cleaning of all borough buildings and implementation of plexiglass in Borough Hall.
Cuthbert said the funds, which do not include salary and wages, were expended from the buildings and grounds and Office of Emergency management lines of the budget. She noted the borough has received many donations, which has helped the borough.
Perilstein said the borough expects to be reimbursed under the Middlesex County CARES Act and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for any COVID-19 related costs.
Metuchen officials will collect $14.86 million in taxes from Metuchen’s residential and commercial property tax owners in 2020 to help fund the municipal budget.
The budget that was adopted in 2019 totaled $25.9 million and included a $14.1 million tax levy. From 2019 to 2020, the total budget is down $492,784 and the total amount to be collected from taxpayers is up $760,000.
The increase in the tax levy adds 4.5 to 4.6 cents to the municipal tax rate. Perilstein said the projected municipal tax increase on a parcel with an assessed value of $200,000 is $90. The municipal tax increase for the average homeowner was $103 in 2019. The average homeowner will pay $2,746.
Municipal taxes account for a portion of the total taxes that are paid by a property owner. The other taxes include school, which is expected to see a tax increase of $226 for the average homeowner; county, which is estimated to see a tax increase of $36 for the average homeowner; and library, which is expected to see a tax increase of $4 for the average homeowner.
Metuchen is expected to receive flat state aid of $1.45 million. Officials will use $1.6 million from surplus funds (savings) as revenue in the budget in 2020; a $500,000 contribution from the Metuchen Parking Authority; $662,264 from local revenue – fees, permits and licenses; $600,000 from the collection of delinquent taxes; and $808,413 through library property taxes.
The total amount of grants in the budget of $368,148 is subject to change.
The largest percentage of the proposed municipal budget is 22% for public safety (police), including salaries and wages, 20% for sewage treatments, health care costs, 19% for pension, FICA (Federal Insurance Contribution Act) and insurance, and 11% for public works.
The proposed budget includes the purchase of a garbage truck; milling and paving of Desser Place, Ross Street, McCoy Avenue, Brunswick Avenue, Lake Avenue, Stoneham Place, and Revere and Hale courts; and the implementation of ADA (American with Disabilities Act) compliant sidewalks and curbs at the end of Lake Avenue.
The proposed milling and paving continues commitments made with supplemental funds from the New Jersey Department of Transportation, officials said.
Perilstein and Cuthbert said putting together the 2020 municipal budget has been a collective team effort.
They said they expect state aid and COVID-19 related purchases to be reimbursed, however, said the borough is in position to use surplus funds if anything changes.
“It’s there for the worst rainy day,” Cuthbert said.
The borough has $3.5 million in surplus. Perilstein said they don’t expect the borough to be able to replenish any surplus for the next year due to revenue losses.
The 2020 municipal budget presentation is on the borough website at www.metuchennj.org. The public hearing and final adoption of the budget is scheduled for the next council meeting on Aug. 24.