Council Discusses Using Open Space Funds To Pay For Park Workers’ Salary And Benefits

Mayor Phil Kramer

Mayor Phil Kramer said at the Feb. 16 budget hearing that he wants to discuss using more Open Space Trust Fund money to pay for the salaries and benefits of workers who maintain township parks.

Building on an action it took in the 2015 budget, the Township Council is discussing using more Open Space Trust Fund money to pay for township workers who maintain township parks.

The issue arose at the Feb. 16 budget hearing, the second and final such hearing the council has held on the 2016 budget.

At issue is paying for workers’ benefits – rather than just straight salary, as is being down now – out of the open space money. The trust fund is powered by a separate tax.

It will again be discussed on Feb. 21 during the council’s financial oversight committee meeting; the council expects to introduce the proposed 2016 spending plan at its Feb. 23 meeting.

It was during the presentation of the proposed Department of Public Works budget that Mayor Phillip Kramer asked how much Department of Public Works’ manpower is being allocated to maintaining township parks. The answer was it takes 10 laborers to do all the needed work.

“One could argue that if we build a park, we should maintain the park,” he said. “In my opinion, if we have someone spending all that time on the parks,” then the open space fund should pay for salary and benefits.

“I would like the council to consider if more money should come out of the open space fund for maintenance of our parks,” Kramer said.

Kramer said after the meeting that salaries and benefits for these workers must be paid by the township, but if it comes from the regular budget it would add to the amount that must be raised by taxes.

Council reaction to Kramer’s proposal was mixed.

Councilman Rajiv Prasad (D-At Large) said he agreed with Kramer that the open space fund should pay for salary and benefits for the workers.

Maintaining the stand he took last year when the subject was broached, Deputy Mayor Ted Chase (D-Ward 1) said he was not in favor of the move.

“I think the people think the Open Space Trust Fund is for open space, and they see more and more of it diverted to what may be seen as the ordinary expenses of the township,” he said.

“I tend to argue to leave the Open Space Trust Fund to open space,” Chase said. “To be paying ordinary salaries is going a good bit farther, and I would prefer to not take that step.”

“If we keep putting more and more on the Open Space Trust Fund, that means less money to buy land,” said Township Councilman Carl R.A. Wright (D-Ward 4). “I don’t think we should put salaries or ordinary things in the open space budget because it doesn’t belong there.”

Township Councilman James Vassanella (D-Ward 5) took the middle road.

“I think this is a long-overdue discussion that needs a component of education and details of what we can do legally,” he said. “I think we have to bring the information to the public objectively this year.”

Councilwoman Kimberly Francois (D-At Large) agreed with the mayor.

“We should maintain that space with the Open Space Trust Fund,” she said. “I think it’s legal. We should do what’s best for the township.”

Councilwoman Roz Sherman (D-Ward 2) said she has “no problem” with using trust fund money to pay the salaries and benefits of park workers.

“If it’s legal, it’s something we have the right to consider,” she said.

Township manager Robert Vornlocker said that he would have numbers on the question in time for the council’s financial oversight meting.


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