Edison Township Council forms Committee of the Whole to investigate township finances

EDISON – The Township Council has created a Committee of the Whole to keep an eye on finances in the township.

Councilman Richard Brescher called for the formation of the Committee of the Whole at a meeting on Sept. 9. He said at the beginning of the year he had requested to look into the township’s finances. There was an agreement to bring someone in from the township’s tax office to provide information on the township’s finances before the council; however, that never happened, he said.

“The idea is to explore the finances in the town and see what type of improvements need to be made,” he said, noting the Committee of the Whole would also provide transparency for the public. “This will give us tools we need to get systematic changes that we need and allow us to see where we’re at … and how we stack up with other [municipalities].”

He said a Committee of the Whole-type look into the finances would possibly answer questions for council members – Joseph Coyle, Sam Joshi, and Ajay Patil – who voted against the 2020 municipal budget. Brescher, Council President Joyce Ship-Freeman, Councilman Robert Diehl, and Councilman Alvaro Gomez voted for “yes” to approve the budget.

The council approved the $150.22 million municipal budget at the meeting on Sept. 9. Edison officials will collect $97.65 million in taxes from Edison’s residential and commercial property tax owners in 2020 to help fund the municipal budget.

Business Administrator Maureen Ruane said the township is anticipating an increase in revenue funds – $1.55 million in funds from the CARES Act for coronavirus expenditures and $500,000 in construction fees – which were not included in the introduced budget in June.

The budget that was adopted in 2019 totaled $144.35 million and included a $92.13 million tax levy. From 2019 to 2020, the total budget is up $5.87 million and the total amount to be collected from taxpayers is up $5.52 million.

In 2020, the municipal tax rate is $2.22 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at the township average of $180,400, municipal taxes will increase by $175 from 2019. The average homeowner will pay $2,475.09, Mayor Thomas Lankey had said.

Municipal taxes account for 24.26% of the total taxes that are paid by a property owner. The other taxes include school, county and library.

Diehl said he agreed with Brescher’s spirit, however, questioned the formation of a Committee of the Whole. He suggested the formation of an Ad Hoc committee would better fit Brescher’s request.

“In my experience, the Committee of the Wholes are last resorts,” he said. “The two previous Committee of the Wholes involved a year-and-a-half of exhausting all our avenues to get all the information.”

Joshi agreed, noting a Committee of the Whole is an expense and is for investigative purposes with subpoena powers and attorneys. He said Brescher’s request is a public audit.

Brescher said despite the cost of $25,000, which is how much has been expended for the recent Committee of the Whole to investigate the racist fliers, he said finances are an important issue for a township with a population of approximately 100,000 people.

The council voted in favor of the formation of the Committee of the Whole with Brescher, Ship-Freeman, Coyle and Patil voting “yes” and with Diehl and Joshi voting “no.” Gomez said he needed more information and abstained from the vote.

In 2019, the Township Council formed a Committee of the Whole to investigate who is responsible for sending racist fliers that displayed two Board of Education candidates in an offensive light during the election season in 2017. After a series of meetings, Diehl said they are not ready to divulge information to the public as of yet and said more information will be forthcoming.

In 2011, the council formed the Committee of the Whole with the goal of investigating then-Mayor Antonia Ricigliano’s initiatives, particularly budget-related moves, employee demotions and layoffs.