Township Council Wraps Up Budget Hearings

BUDGET QUESTION – Township Councilman James Vassanella asks a question about an aspect of the proposed 2023 budget requests.

The final municipal departments made their 2023 budget requests to the Township Council at a special March 21 budget hearing.

As is the norm, Township Manager Robert Vornlocker presented the departments’ proposed budgets with respective representatives on hand to answer any questions the Council might have had.

The Council has to introduce its budget by the first meeting in April to meet the deadline to submit it to the state for review.

Following are some highlights of the presentation:

The proposed Human Resources budget is $138,450, a $2,950 increase over last year. Vornlocker said the bulk of that increase, or $2,000 “… reflects the two organizations the township joined in 2022, the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.

“Both are very good organizations not only for assistance in out ability to recruit candidates for all the positions we have open in the township but also for training purposes when we’ve been able to take advantage of some of the training opportunities they offer,” he said.

The health insurance proposed budget is $7,797,850, an increase of $8,500. Vornlocker said the biggest increase was in the “every-other-year requirement of each municipality to conduct Government Accounting Standards Bureau … every other year we have to do a full report done by an outside firm that’s a projection of future costs for retiree benefits. This is a full-year review.”

“The health benefits line reflects the same amount as 2022,” Vornlocker said. “The reason for that is while there was an increase of $300,000 in health care benefits from last year, we were able to absorb that increase from money in the reserve where employee contributions are recorded.”

“My anticipation for 2024 is that if we stay on the current path for health care benefits, we’ll probably see a larger increases than the 11 percent increase we saw this year,” he said.

The tax collectors proposed budget of $19,866, is up $3,822, which Vornlocker attributed to increases in printing and postage costs.

“The printing of water bills and the printing of tax bills and the postage associated with it,” he said. “There’s an increase of $1,130 in that line, and that is because postage is going up, and printing is going up.”

Increased postage was also the villain in the $1,400 increase in the proposed budget for the Purchasing department, bringing the proposed budget to $110,200.

There’s a $4,700 increase in the proposed$32,300 municipal court budget. Vornlocker said a big part of that increase is caused by the need to bring in more translators for court hearings.

The Economic Development department saw a shift of $100,175 from its budget into the Planning department’s to pay for planning and traffic studies. That leaves Economic Development with a proposed budget of $15,500.

The proposed recreation budget of $105,875 includes an increase of $2,630 over last year, even with a cut of $23,000. The cut occurred because the money was used to hire off-duty cops for teen recreation at the Middle School, but that program was moved over to the Franklin Township Youth Center, along with its cost.

Information Technology’s proposed operating budget of $386,306 includes an increase of $77,473, teh bulk of which Vornlocker attributed to software costs.

“We entered into multi-year software licensing agreements to save money and this year happens to reflect multi-year licenses expiring and having to be renewed,” he said. “This is the cost of doing business.”

“It’s also the protection of our network,” Vornlocker said. “Cyber security is a huge issue right now, and cyber security is not cheap. You have to spend money to protect your network. There are local municipalities that have been held hostage and have had to pay ransom from a cyber attack.”

The Township is in year four of a five-year capital plan, Vornlocker said. This year’s installment carries a $567,000 price tag.

The Township Manager’s proposed budget of $284,650 includes a $2,000 increase in the cost of office supplies, Vornlocker said.

“$240,000 is the township’s contingency in the event of an emergency,” Vornlocker said.

The general legal line item of $505,000 is flat from last year, but that might change, Vornlocker said.

“Given the current climate with litigation and what we’re dealing with as far as litigation, I will be having a conversation with the township attorney about what his anticipation is for costs in 2023 to defend us,” he said.

The state-mandated library tax will be $4,478,589, a $703,159 increase over last year.

Township Councilman James Vassanella (D-Ward 5) wondered if the library could return to the Council some of that money, but Mayor Phil Kramer said that now that the library has two satellite locations – in the Franklin Youth Center and in Franklin Park – it probably needs it for its own operations.

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