Earlier this week, Moody's Investor Services assigned an Aa1 rating to Chester Township due to what it describes as our "healthy finances, modest leverage, and well above-average resident wealth and income." Moody's went on to say that: "[Chester Township's] management has a history of conservative budgeting as seen in its recent strong financial performance. They have a formal policy to maintain a minimum fund balance of 10%, which they have comfortably exceeded for years."
Thanks to this Aa1 rating, the cost for Chester Township to go out to bond is quite low (particularly in this low interest rate environment) and we are able to responsibly spread out the cost of major capital projects.
Observer-Tribune: The Township Council approved a new municipal court administrator during its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 1. The new court administrator, Ingrid O’Connor, the current deputy court administrator, will take over from Susan Travis who will serve her last day on Thursday, Sept. 17.
O’Connor was approved 5-0 with Mayor Marcia Asdal and Councilmen Tim Drag, Michael Inganamort, Joe Di Paolo and Brian Curley voting in approval. She will earn an annual salary of $75,283. O’Connor was involved in the expansion of the Chester Township court to include Mendham Township a few years back, according to Inganamort who serves as council liaison to the court.
“She was integral to the more recent expansion to include Chester Borough,’’ Inganamort stated. “She also has experience in other parts of the township government, including as an assistant to the township administrator and technical assistant to the township construction official.’’
Since the pandemic erupted in March, the court, which is shared among the three municipalities, has been held virtually. During the last court date on Aug. 20, there were 70 cases heard with 67 resolved virtually and the rest were plea by mail. It is presided by Judge Glenn T. Gavan.
The new tennis court and pickle ball courts in Chubb Park opened to the public on Friday, July 31st - a full month ahead of schedule. Thanks to our erstwhile Parks Committee for long championing this project. I'm proud to have helped get this project across the finish line and am especially heartened by the enthusiastic response from tennis and pickle ball players alike. Enjoy safely!
What a difference three years makes! Back in 2017, we scraped for every vote in competitive primary and general elections.
This year, I'm grateful to have been unopposed in the primary, alongside a terrific running-mate in Joe DiPaolo.
And then we got great news today. With the Morris County Board of Elections having tabulated all results, we learned that we'll also be unopposed in November. We did not see that one coming!
It's an incredible honor to serve on the Council and I'm committed to being out on the campaign trail this fall regardless.
At our meeting this past Tuesday, the Council approved a plan to cancel $513,470.24 in planned purchases and return those dollars to the capital improvement fund, the general capital fund balance, the reserve for open space, and the reserve for debt. The work in coming up with this plan started weeks earlier and involved detailed conversations with our various municipal departments on what projects are and aren't necessary. Highlights of what we canceled include $80,000 that was put aside in 2016 for a new salt bin at the DPW building, $40,000 that was put aside for a new car for town hall use, $100,000 for a bucket truck, and a little more than $90,000 that was left over from paving Old Chester Gladstone Road and Mendham Road. Big thanks to Councilmen Tim Drag and Joe DiPaolo for identifying these equipment savings, in particular. By returning these dollars to their source, we're able to more accurately budget for future projects and, ultimately, tax or borrow less overall.
A quick reminder to please return your completed mail-in ballot today: Tuesday, July 7th. For those who prefer to vote on a provisional ballot, you may do so at the Highlands Ridge Barn on North Road between 6:00am and 8:00pm.
There's a lot about this year's election that is different, but here are a few things to keep in mind:
If you've already mailed in your ballot, let us know! We're making a lot of calls but would love to hear from you directly.
I'm proud to be running for re-election this year alongside fellow Councilman Joe DiPaolo, a smart guy who's provided tremendous value in his short time on the Council.
PS - here's a recent interview I did with the Mendham-Chester Patch. In it, I explain why I'm motivated to continue serving on the Chester Township Council and would be grateful for your vote!
For a town that already shares so many services with other towns to streamline government, improve services, or save money (and often all three), we keep finding a way to do more.
Last night the Council approved an agreement to share animal control services with Mendham Township and Mendham Borough. Unlike some other shared service agreements, this one preserves our existing vendor and the services they currently provide. Essentially nothing is changing but the cost, since we're now part of a three-town contract.
The savings to Chester Township are approximately $2,000 for the year, so this won't make or break our budget, but it's another successful collaboration that's come out of our Shared Services Working Group. Thanks to Mendham Township Mayor Sarah Neibart for her leadership on this latest agreement and for entrusting Chester Township to administer the Shared Court of Chester Township, Mendham Township, and Chester Borough. Let's also not forget our Working Group's first agreement: sharing DPW equipment across four Morris County towns.
Last night, in our first-ever Zoom meeting, the Council voted 4-1 to amend the municipal budget that was introduced on March 3rd and eliminate what was a proposed 2% tax increase. The amended budget, which is described below, was approved by the same margin. I was pleased to join the majority in both of these votes (and, in fact, voted against the budget as introduced last month) to ensure that Chester Township residents will not face a municipal tax increase this year. This is the second straight year in which Chester Township municipal taxes have remained flat.
The Top-Line Numbers
The Chester Township budget for 2020 is $15,368,751.33, of which $8,669,000.00 is raised through property taxes for municipal purposes. The rest comes from a mix of grants, state aid, and revenues such as building and construction permits and our shared service agreements.
Separate and apart from the Chester Township budget are the budgets for the Chester School District (about 42% of your tax bill), the West Morris High School District (about 24% of your tax bill), and Morris County (about 12% of your tax bill), the last of which was recently adopted with no tax increase. The Chester Township budget is about 20% of the total tax bill.
The Major Drivers
The 2020 municipal budget puts $650,000 into the capital reserve fund to get closer to a pay-as-you-go system for large expenses. This represents the largest one-year contribution to the capital reserve fund in recent memory, following contributions of $550,000 in 2019, $500,000 in 2018, and $400,000 in 2017.
The budget also anticipates putting $1.5 million toward paying down debt, following previous payments of $1.3 million and $1.25 million in 2019 and 2018, respectively. This paydown is part of an effort to build cash and reduce debt at the same time, and is continually evaluated based on the Township's financial position.
Our pension costs continue to go up, with our exact obligation dictated by the State of New Jersey. Our contribution to the Public Employees Retirement Program (PERS) is $346,115 and our contribution to the Police & Firefighter's Retirement Program (PFRS) is $596,780.
Across municipal departments, thanks to the cooperation of our department heads, we saw responsible decreases at the Department of Public Works, Planning & Zoning, the Tax Collector, and the Tax Assessor. We’re also keeping our Parks budget flat, even though this part of our government is funded by the open space tax (outside of the municipal tax levy).
One of the largest departmental decreases was in our municipal court. This is a result of last year’s expansion of our shared court agreement to include not only Mendham Township, but also Chester Borough. After hiring an additional part-time employee to help with the increased case load and also hiring a new judge, the net savings to taxpayers are roughly $18,000 for the year.
For better or worse, we saw very little snow this past winter and spent very little on snow removal. These dollars will roll into our emergency reserve at the end of the year, thus obviating the need for further contributions into this fund, which now stands at about 1.5 times the amount we budget for snow removal.
Finally, as I’ve done from the start, I asked that my Council salary be reduced and pulled out of the state's Defined Contribution Retirement Program (DCRP). Any part-time or elected individual who makes at least $5,000 from state or local government in New Jersey is automatically enrolled in the DCRP. I purposefully stay under this threshold, thus saving Chester Township the 3.015% retirement match.
Tonight Chester Township reorganized its municipal government for 2020. It’s such an honor to serve and I'm especially grateful to my Council colleagues for selecting me to serve as Council President again in 2020. It's going to be a great year!
Greetings from Atlantic City! I'm down here participating in the New Jersey State League of Municipalities convention to get a hands-on feel for the latest technologies and innovations in municipal government. Some highlighted include: