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Englewood Cliffs approves budget at wild meeting
Thursday, July 15, 2010 BY MIKE CURLEY
NORTHERN VALLEY SUBURBANITE

STAFF WRITER

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ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS The town council adopted its 2010 operating budget on July 14, after a tumultuous discussion among residents and councilmembers that included one councilman’s storming out in the middle of the meeting. The council president and the head of the finance committee, Robert Agresta, gave a brief outline of the budget, which includes $10,527,903 in taxes, up from $10,059,901 in 2009. Agresta said two major factors accounted for this increase: Governor Christie’s decision not to allow municipalities to defer payments to the state pension plan and a loss in state aid this year. Aside from those factors, he said, the tax rate would have remained flat. A home assessed at $1.25 million, Agresta said, will find this year’s municipal tax bill about $200 higher. In order to help bring taxes down and avoid layoffs, he added, the council would be moving unused funds from older capital ordinances, some dating back to 1998, into the general fund. The meeting was then open to the public. Many residents were opposed to the council removing money from the capital funds like road repairs, which was lowered from $1.4 million to $1 million. Several residents said their roads were in horrendous shape and urged the council to restore the funds so that repairs could be made. When asked what the largest appropriations on the budget were, Agresta said the biggest was salary and wages, which was at approximately $5,378,000. This was down from 2009’s budget, which had salary and wages at $5,579,000. Group insurance was the second highest, with department appropriations, debt service and pension payments also high on the list. Members of the council came into conflict on the budget as well. Councilman Ilan Plawker and Mayor Joseph Parisi were also opposed to moving the funds. Plawker said moving capital funds to operating expenses was something any businessman would consider ill advised. By artificially lowering the tax rate, he said, the town would be putting itself at a disadvantage when the 2 percent cap takes effect next year because Englewood Cliffs won’t be able to raise as much money. Councilwoman Carrol McMorrow responded that Plawker hadn’t come to the budget workshops and didn’t know the processes that took place. The town would not be cutting services, she said, and the move was made on the recommendation of the city’s professional consultants. She added that some of the money had been untouched since 1998, and if it was still there after so long, the town wasn’t likely to use it. Plawker, in turn, responded that he did not attend the workshops because he was afraid private matters discussed there would be "blurted out" in public. Mayor Parisi said the town was going to be "clobbered" in coming years because it was going to need money in reserve for unexpected expenditures and costs. He added there were several costs not accounted for in the budget, like impending lawsuit decisions and $100,000 in overtime. The council, he said, needed to look

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3/27/11 11:37 AM

Englewood Cliffs approves budget at wild meeting - NorthJersey.com

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long term, and not go for a "quick fix." McMorrow responded that the measures were not a quick fix but rather that moves like the previous council’s deferring pension payments to 2012 under a Corzine administration program were a quick fix. She added that the council had used a portion of the surplus in 2008 to lower taxes. Agresta said later in the meeting that the surplus would not be substantially reduced, as approximately $64,000 was being used this year, less than the council had used in 2008. Some residents argued the town would have to cut staff in coming years if the budget did not account for unexpected costs, saying the town needs to keep a cushion ready for a rainy day. Numerous residents added while they certainly don’t want higher taxes, they realize the town needs money to operate, and would rather pay higher taxes than lose programs in the future. Other residents questioned the town’s retirement plan for employees and whether the town could afford it if multiple employees retired in the near future. Agresta responded that the town did not foresee retirements happening in the remaining months of the 2010 budget and that retirement payments would not be paid all at once, but over the course of several years. The police department, which represents 40 percent of the budget, was also discussed, with some residents questioning what could be done to reduce costs. Others, however, said the police were worth every spent because the town has a very low crime rate. Some questioned how costs could be brought down while keeping the town safe. The council heatedly debated the budget, with Parisi, Plawker, and Thomas Manolio saying it did not account for unforeseen emergencies, like the nor’easter that hit the area earlier this year. Agresta and McMorrow defended the budget, saying it was a responsible and made with careful estimates for revenue, while previous budgets had misestimated how much funding would be coming in. The tensions reached their height when Manolio left the room in anger after what he called an ‘accusatory statement’ by Agresta. Agresta said, during the discussion, that Manolio and Plawker would not have to worry about Agresta hiring someone to follow them around in response to a question about a lawsuit Agresta had brought against the town, the settlement of which was accounted for in the budget. Some in the audience chastised Agresta for the comment, saying it sounded like "a threat." Others in the public criticized Parisi for an open letter sent before the meeting, which accused McMorrow of being on a "self-promoting crusade" and pushing through the budget. Several times in the meeting Parisi had to restore order to the room, at one point saying he would clear the room if things didn’t settle down. After further discussion between the public and the council, the governing body voted 4 to 1 to adopt the budget, with Plawker voting against, and Manolio absent, having left the meeting earlier. After the budget passed, Parisi said, for the record, that he had planned to veto the budget, but because it was a resolution, he could not. E-mail: curley@northjersey.com
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Englewood Cliffs approves budget at wild meeting - NorthJersey.com

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