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Proposed $57 Million Municipal Budget Includes Slight Tax Increase, Money For Roads, Sidewalks

The proposed budget includes allocations for road resurfacing, new sidewalks and slight tax increase.

3-24-14 meeting2

Township Councilman Carl R.A. Wright said March 24 that the council needs to approve money to install sidewalks where children are walking to school in the street.

The proposed 2014 budget that will be presented to the Township Council next month includes a slight tax increase and money for street repaving and a controversial sidewalk construction plan.

Whether that $750,000 allocation for sidewalks on streets near Franklin Middle School survives in the budget that is finally adopted by the council remains to be seen. Mayor Brian Levine contends the township cannot afford it at all, and some council members want to see it decreased.

Township manager Bob Vornlocker March 24 steered the council through a last review of the proposed spending plan, including a 5-year capital improvement plan and allocations for the township water utility. The budget is now ready to be presented to the council at its April 8 meeting.

A quick look at the numbers:

  • The proposed $56,899,422.55 total budget created by Vornlocker – which includes the Franklin Public Library’s $2,939,530.98 budget – is about 2 percent more than last year’s spending plan.
  • The budget is driven by a tax levy of $36,299,128.98, of which $33,359,598 is the municipal portion and $2,939,530.98 is the library’s portion. That’s an overall 3.6 percent increase over last year’s tax levy, and translates to a local portion tax of .373 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
  • Under the proposed budget, the owner of a home assessed at $306,058 – the township’s average – would pay a local portion tax of $1,141.60 under the proposed budget.
  • Add to that the $101 library portion and $153.03 open space portion, and the total municipal tax bill for that average assessed home would be $1,395.62, a $9.93 increase over last year’s figure.

Vornlocker said the budget’s revenue side included about $700,000 that would not be repeated next year. About $400,000 of that was a reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and about $300,000 came from the sale of a liquor license, he said.

Proposed capital plan spurs debate
Vornlocker proposed spending $2.5 million this year – and for each of the next several years – to resurface a number of township roads. Township engineer Thomas Zilinek told the council that in addition to roads not having been resurfaced in a number of years, this year’s harsh winter “beat up our roads.”

“We spent $34,000 in manpower and materials filling potholes,” he said.

Councilman Phil Kramer (D-Ward 3) said that the township needs to spend $12 million on road resurfacing in the next four years.

Levine said that although he wants the roads resurfaced, he also wants other things as well.

“I’ve got to cut the budget back,” Levine said. “We’re spending more than we’re taking in.”

“Will I propose pulling this back?” he said. “I may, I may not. I haven’t decided.”

Councilman Rajiv Prasad (D-At Large) said the council has ignored township roads for too long. He noted that there was a 10-year span when no resurfacing work was done at all.

“You have to pay the piper some day,” Prasad said. “We ignored the roads, especially in the 4th and 5th wards. It’s something that sooner or later we have to address. We should be able to provide good infrastructure for our people.”

But it was Vornlocker’s proposal to spend $750,000 a year for the next five years on sidewalk construction that drew the most discussion.

The targeted streets fall in a 2-mile radius of Franklin Middle School, Vornlocker said, because that’s the distance within which children are allowed to walk to school. He said Mark Healey, the township’s planning director, created a list of streets that need sidewalks.

The project would start with those streets closest to the school, he said.

The original idea was to strike an agreement with the Board of Education through which the township would install new sidewalks and the board would end courtesy busing in those areas. But, Vornlocker said, he has not been able to schedule a meeting of the council and school board’s joint facilities committee to hold that discussion.

In fact, Vornlocker said, he hasn’t been able to get a meeting with the committee in about two years.

“The question is, do we wait for the Board of Education to get its act together, which it shows no interest in doing, or do we do it on our own?” asked Councilman Ted Chase (D-Ward 1).

Councilman Carl R.A. Wright (D-Ward 4) had his answer ready.

“We have to get the kids off the streets and on the sidewalks,” he said. “We’re debating something that stupid. When are we just going to do the damn thing?”

“Let’s not wait for the Board of Education,” he said. “We have the list, don’t we? If we’ve been trying to schedule a meeting since 2012, as dysfunctional as they can be, we need to get it together.”

Wright said it didn’t matter if the council or school board built the sidewalks because the taxpayers pay either way.

Mayor Levine said that without the school board’s commitment to getting students off the bus and onto these sidewalks, “I don’t want to spend $750,000 a year on sidewalks that are going to get little use.”

“I’m not saying it’s a bad idea,” Levine said later, “I’m saying we can’t afford it.”

Levine moved to remove the allocation completely from the budget, but his motion did not receive a second.

Deputy Mayor Brian Regan (D-At Large) said that he’d like to see the allocation reduced to about $400,000.

“Without the complete buy-in from the Board of Education, I’m just not there,” he said.

That idea was echoed by Kramer.

Vornlocker said that if his proposal were to be scaled back, it could be “refocused to an area where we do have children walking in the street.”

That notion set Wright off.

“They’re our kids,” he said, “they’re walking in the damn street.”

“We’re actually saying, unless the school board does this, we won’t do that,” Wright said. “That’s stupid.”

“Public safety demands sidewalks,” he said. “I want $750,000 a year to build sidewalks.”

Chase then moved that Vornlocker’s original $750,000 allocation remain in the proposed budget.

Levine voted against the motion, as did Councilwoman Rozalyn Sherman (D-Ward 2). Sherman said she wanted to see a prioritized list of streets that need sidewalks.

Councilwoman Kimberly Francois (D-At Large) abstained, as did Councilman James Vassanella (D-Ward 5).

Vassanella said he wanted some attention paid to existing sidewalks that need repair.

The proposed water utility capital improvement plan includes $3.5 million for the Route 27 water main replacement project.

The engineering portion of that project should be completed in June, Vornlocker said.

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