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:
The three-town municipal court we'd been working on the past month (that story here) is now a reality. Starting October 1st, one shared municipal court will serve Chester Township, Mendham Township, and Chester Borough.
Chester Township and Mendham Township had already been sharing the court for nearly two years, and each municipality saw savings as a result. With a third municipality in our agreement, we are excited to create more efficiencies, generate additional savings, and provide an exceptional level of service for all three towns. This is a big shared services win for our communities.
Big thanks to our friends in Chester Borough and Mendham Township for their cooperation and mutual trust.
I hope you get a chance to pick up today's Observer-Tribune, which provides a detailed update on our work to expand the municipal court we already share with Mendham Township (at a savings of $30,000 per year) to also include Chester Borough. This is important work that not only reduces costs and thus saves taxpayer dollars, but also provides greater efficiencies for our municipal staff and shared Chester Police Department. Click below for the full article.
Tri-court combination takes a step forward
One municipal court to serve the Chesters and Mendham Township came a step further to reality at Tuesday’s Township Council meeting. The council unanimously approved a resolution to create a court that would serve three municipalities. Mendham Township is expected to consider the plan next Tuesday. Chester Borough officials said they want to discuss the proposal further before voting on it.
The shared municipal court would be convened in Chester Township but each court retains its own identity. It provides for shared court staff including court administrators, prosecutors and security personnel. Along with the added savings, township officials said it is a positive move, especially because the township and borough share a police force.
I recently met with Freeholder Steve Shaw, liaison to the county’s road department, and Mayor Marcia Asdal to check on the progress of the North Road paving.
What a difference this project has made already! Big thanks to Freeholder Shaw for seeing this through, and to Councilman Tim Drag for doggedly pursuing it since January.
Last night, the Chester Township Council passed the 2019 municipal budget, which includes no increase in the municipal tax levy. As liaison to our finance department, I couldn't be more proud of the work that went into this budget - from our mayor, the Council, our Chief Financial Officer, our Administrator, and each department head. The process of creating the budget and the result itself were sound, responsible, and respectful of the taxpayer.
The Top-Line Numbers
The Chester Township budget for 2019 is $14,770,399.81, of which $8,669,600.78 is raised through property taxes for municipal purposes. The rest is accounted for in grants, state aid, and revenues such as building and construction permits and our shared service agreements (more below).
It was a pleasure to once again welcome Senator Tom Kean to Chester tonight. Special thanks to co-hosts Mayor Marcia Asdal and Councilman Tim Drag. We had a solid discussion about the reality of New Jersey’s fiscal crisis.
This morning, Mayor Marcia Asdal and I had our first meeting with Chester Township's CFO to discuss the 2019 budget. The budget process is truly my favorite part of serving on the Council. You not only see firsthand how years of responsible decision-making, conservative budgeting, and shared services have helped Chester Township avoid major tax increases or emergency spending, but also identify areas for new thinking and better prioritization. I'm totally focused on helping deliver a fiscally responsible 2019 budget. Stay tuned for additional updates this spring.