The South Orange Board of Trustees (BOT) introduced Monday night a $33.5 million budget with a 1.7 percent tax increase on the average household. The budget includes funding for YouthNet and the Community Coalition on Race (CCR), as well as a $309,000 subsidy to SOPAC, an increase of $70,000 from 2012.
The BOT will vote on the budget on July 8, after a public hearing.
To see the full budget, visit the SO Township website.
"This is a responsible budget," said Township Administrator Barry Lewis Jr., who said he was "optimistic and confident we...are on the right path." Lewis said the township had stabilized its debt and anticipated no furloughs or reduction in services.
Village President Alex Torpey agreed, noting that the township's efforts to restructure its debt in recent years will pave the way for a more "balanced and responsible" repayment plan in the future.
Torpey said previously the township would borrow money for capital projects years before the money was needed, which meant high interest payments and a lower bond rating, a process that has been stopped.
One half of the 1.7 percent tax increase is due to exceptions that the township is using to offset an increase in pension payments, said Lewis. The township had achieved a savings of $80,000 in electric and gas rates, by entering into a cooperative buying system.
Lewis said the budget surplus dropped by $700,000 this year because of increased clean-up costs from Hurricanes Irene and Sandy (of which the township anticipates FEMA will reimburse 75 percent) and a decrease in payments from the East Orange Water Commission (EOWC).
Lewis told Patch in a follow-up interview that the township will begin to get payments again from the EOWC this year and will add it back to the surplus.
The budget includes $12,000 for YouthNet and $18,000 for the CCR, said Lewis, who said the township had received a service agreement from YouthNet but is "going back and forth on getting a service agreement" from the CCR.
Trustee Sheena Collum asked for more clarity on SOPAC's subsidy increase and questioned including funding for the CCR before an agreement was in place.
"It's easier to take things out than to add them [back] in" to the budget, said Lewis. He said unused funds could always be added back to the surplus.
Lewis told Patch that part of why the CCR agreement hadn't been finalized was that it is difficult to quantify the organization's value to the town. "The nature of what they do is broad and they serve Maplewood too," he said. "[The question is] how do you put a value on that."
Trustee Deborah Davis Ford said she and Trustee Walter Clarke were meeting with CCR leaders and would have more information before the trustees vote on whether to approve the budget on July 8.
The SOPAC subsidy is increasing to $309,000 from $239,000 in 2012. That amount is then added to the rent from Clearview Cinemas, which was originally supposed to be "passed through" to the township but which never happened, for a total annual township subsidy of $500,000.
SOPAC's leaders recently told the BOT they expect to eventually not need the subsidy at all, once they were on a better path to success and sustainability.
Lewis told Patch the township was continuing to pay down the $50 million debt it had accumulated over the last decade or so. "That's no way to run [a town]," he said.