Township Council Begins 2023 Budget Hearings

BUDGET TIMEPublic Safety Director Quovella Maeweather prepares for her comments to the Township Council at its first 2023 budget hearing on March 13.

Budget requests for a number of township departments were heard at a special March 13 Township Council hearing.

The hearing was one of two that will be held before the township’s 2023 budget is introduced, which is expected to happen during the Council’s second meeting on March 28. The next budget hearing is set for March 21.

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker told the Council that the township is still waiting to hear what its state aid amount will be. He said if the state aid figures have not been released by March 28, then the budget will be introduced at the Council’s first meeting in April.

At the March 13 hearing, the Council members heard from representatives from the offices of the township Assessor, Fire Prevention, Planning, Engineering and the Environmental Commission, Construction Code, Police, Public Works, Open Space and the Mayor and Township Council and the Clerk.

Vornlocker led the hearing, bringing up department heads one by one to make their cases for their proposed budgets.

One of the largest line items was, as usual, the township’s proposed road resurfacing program. There is currently $3.5 million earmarked for that, but Vornlocker said that amount could change after discussions are held on the program.

One surprise was what was not asked for: new vehicles for th ePolice Department.

Public Safety Director Quovella Maeweather said she declined to ask for new vehicles because money earmarked for cars in the last two budgets still hadn’t been spent.

That’s becasue police cars are hard to find these days, Vornlocker said.

“We’re two years behind, this goes back to the 2021 capital budget,” Vornlocker said. “We have not been able to complete the orders. Ford canceled about 95 percent of the orders placed by police departments nationwide in 2022.”

“We’re not quite sure where this is all going, we’re out to bid right now for police vehicles from the 2021 budget,” he said.

“We just can’t go on a lot and pick out cars,” Maeweather said. “All the police departments are trying to do the same thing. We are behind 15 from the past two years that you approved.”

One increase in the police budget is for uniforms for department dispatchers.

“Our dispatchers are going to wear polos and khakis because I think that’s what they used to do and it’s gotten too lax,” Maeweather said. “They’re certified first responders now, so they should all wear the same thing. I’m sick of seeing people come to work in flip-flops and shorts. It’s not professional.”

“In every town, dispatchers wear police uniforms similar to that, but this is a stripped-down version,” she said. “They’re not happy about it, but …”

Vornlocker said he was fully behind the idea.

“When I started in 1985 as a dispatcher, we all wore uniforms,” he said. “I think it’s a wonderful idea.”

The department is also asking for $500,000 to complete its radio system upgrade, an upgrade that has to be done in conjunction with Somerset County because the two share systems.

Another department that usually has big-ticket asks in its budget is Public Works.

Public Works Director Carl Hauck told the Council that among the projects he needs to fund is teh annual meter replacement program, which costs $100,000; the hydrant replacement program, for which he needs $50,000, and water main replacement, which will cost $2 million.

An unfunded mandate from the state that requires certain towns – Franklin included – to do a complete survey of their catch basin systems will cost about $1 million, Vornlocker said.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is requiring these towns to “survey where their catch basins are, where their pipes are, the sizes and slopes of their pipes, and the whole drainage area from inception to discharge,” Hauck said.

“This is a tremendous amount of money to meet the mandate, but it’s something we have to do,” Vornlocker said.

“It’s unfortunate, but that’s what we have to do,” he said. “It’s because stormwater itself and what we do with our stormwater impacts the whole watershed … where does our stormwater go and what impact does it have on our neighboring municipalities.”

“While I understand the necessity of it, it just kind of stinks,” Vornlocker said. “That’s the best way I can put it.”

Hauck said the project has to be completed by 2025.

Another unfunded mandate from the DEP requires towns that do street sweeping to create a structure in which the swept material can be kept until it can be properly disposed of.

This will require the construction of a pole barn at the Convenience Center, which will cost about $300,000.

Hauck also asked for vehicles totaling $1,843,500. Included in that ask are four pickup trucks with plows, a horizontal chipper, and a vacuum trailer to clean catch basins.

Hauck also asked for two new employees, a full- and a part-timer.

The full-time employee would be a capital projects inspector, with a salary of $60,000 and benefits worth $55,000.

“We have a pretty extensive (capital) program that we do every year, we currently have two part-time positions, one we can’t fill and one only permitted 25 hours a week,” Hauck said. “We’re not fully covering or inspecting some of the things because of the time constraints. This full-time inspector would be able to cover all the projects.”

The part-timer would be a tree inspector, whose job it would be to inspect tree work orders, schedule tree removals and pruning and train the tree crew, among other things.

The job would come with a salary of $35,500.

The cost of water the Township buys from NJ American Water, New Brunswick and South Brunswick is expected to rise in 2023, so the budget line increased from $9 million last year to $9.3 million this year.

“It depends on usage . . . but the $300,000 is factored into those rate increases,” Hauck said.

Hauck is also looking for $2,725,000 to buy equipment and make repairs to structures covered by the Open Space Trust Fund.

Included in that is $1.5 million for reconstruction of the Inman Park tennis courts, $70,000 for workout equipment at Naaman Williams Park, $150,000 for Middlebush Park driveway reconstruction, and $165,000 to repaint the Princeton Highlands bridge, which sits on township-owned open space in teh Princeton Highlands development.

The ask also includes $350,000 for the design and build of a bridge at the Bunker Hill Environmental center.

The Planning Department wants a $40,000 increase in its legal budget to pay for anticipated and existing lawsuits regarding planning and zoning decisions.

Speaking of the lawsuits, Vornlocker said, “There’s at least seven now that I’m aware of, related to Planning and Zoning applications, or changes in planning and zoning.”

The department is also looking for another $30,000 for professional services from the Township’s engineering firm.

“There’s an increased demand in engineering services,” Vornlocker said.

Increases in legal and professional fees are part of the $111,000 overall increase the department is looking for with its $141,345 budget.

In Fire Prevention, Fire Prevention Director John Haus told the Council that he needed a part-time clerical position to be moved to full-time status.

“Fire Prevention workload is significantly increasing with all the building and everything that’s going on in the town,” Haus said. “A number of years ago we had two full-time people in office. That was reduced out of budget concerns. But we really are falling further and further behind in administrative duties, and with the town growing as it is, we really need to go back to the full-time positions.”

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