Stafford Township Officials, Residents Discuss, Adopt 2018 Budget

May 02, 2018

Stafford Township’s $48 million municipal budget represents a 1.3-cent reduction in the tax rate, from 90.1 cents down to 88.8 cents per $100 of valuation; includes $37 million for municipal purposes and $416,822 for open space; and comes in $850,000 under the levy cap, Township Administrator James Moran summarized.

While the overall budget is up $3 million, he explained, $958,000 of that is a grant from FEMA that must be recorded in order to pass through to the people of Beach Haven West who are having their homes raised; $900,000 is an appropriation from surplus for purchase of three new garbage trucks; and $600,000 is the first installment of return payment on a Community Disaster Loan from FEMA, which the town had borrowed in order to stabilize the tax rate after Superstorm Sandy.

In response to an inquiry by Weaver Drive’s Jeanine Sciglitano, Moran said Stafford’s practices with regard to employees’ contributions to their insurance coverage are “very comparable” to those of surrounding municipalities and fully compliant with applicable laws. Each employee’s contribution is a percentage on a sliding scale based on salary, per state law in 2011. The highest paid personnel pay 25 to 35 percent of the cost of health benefits, he noted. The mayor’s annual salary is $12,500, which Moran said is “significantly lower than most surrounding communities,” and the council members’ salaries start at $9,200.

When Sciglitano asked where surplus comes from, Moran said it can result from under-expenditure, investments, outstanding tax collections and unanticipated revenue such as grants, or hospital funding for police.

She also asked about the reserve for uncollected taxes, which Moran described as a delicate balance: The town sets aside money to cover whatever it doesn’t collect, and any difference goes into the following year’s fund balance. “We are conservative in how we balance it and how we calculate it,” he said.

Florence Lane’s Dawn Papatheodorou asked about the budgeted increase for electricity. Moran said they base their estimation upon known electricity usage and a consultation with AC Electric. “We expect costs to go up,” he said. While costs outside of their control continue to rise, spending has gone down in the area they can control, he said.

Stormy Road resident Paul Krier, a former Stafford councilman and a Conservative hopeful in the June primary elections, said he feels more could have been done to prevent the budget from going up. Moran explained that when you eliminate the FEMA monies and the garbage trucks from the equation, the actual increase amounts to about $550,000.

“I find it hard to believe, in a $48 million budget, that you couldn’t have found $550,000,” Krier said. For one thing, he feels it unfair for the town to pay for medical benefits for Councilman Steve Fessler and Mayor Jon Spodofora (who were grandfathered in to the town’s healthcare program when it was discontinued in 2009).

Krier said the role of a town council member is essentially a part-time job – to which the council did not take kindly. Councilman Dave Taylor suggested Krier felt that way only “because when you were here, you didn’t work as much as the rest.”

Spodofora reminded Krier that, during Krier’s time on council, “you also supported cutting the open space tax, which was a disaster.”

How so, Krier asked.

“We ran a deficit in open space and had to borrow from the general fund to re-fund the open space,” Moran answered.

Spodofora praised the budget, describing it as sound and fiscally responsible, as the town continues to look for ways to save money by doing projects in-house, cross-training staff and sharing services. Town officials must have a progressive outlook, he said, and also invest in the town and look at the long-term outcomes.

— Victoria Ford

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