By Ejvind Boccolini

Chester Borough Mayor Robert Davis forwarded a budget letter to the Black River News, which he recently wrote, and it offers statements on details of this budget.
“After five months of work by the Department heads, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), the Administrator, the Finance Committee and the Mayor and Council, we are pleased to present the 2014 budget which includes appropriations and revenue information for the General Budget as follows. Please note, the budget has been introduced and passed at the final hearing on April 15 by a split vote of the Council of 4 to 2 during the Mayor and Council meeting.
The General Budget appropriations will increase by 1.9% over the 2013 level to $4,858,141. This change recognizes increased cost of employing personnel due to state regulated insurance, pension and modest salary increases for our personnel. Significantly, the new contract we have with our PBA/Policemen’s Benevolent Association (police department) slows down the growth of PBA employee costs due to the 12 steps negotiated versus the 4 steps in the previous contract.
The Capital portion of the General Budget includes an increase oxver 2013 by 11.3%. Our 2014 Capital budget plans include the repaving of several streets (Grove, Budd and Cherry) and equipment purchases for our Department of Public Works (DPW). We continue to support our first responders the police department, first aid squad and fire department as to their capital needs for equipment. Additionally, we will be paving Gladstone Road with a grant we received last year. Our general approach to purchasing equipment and repaving our streets is to pay cash so as to not increase our debt year over year.
The 2013/2014 winter weather has been expensive this fiscal year for two major reasons. First the amount of road plowing, employee overtime and the use of salt and grit forced budget increases this year. Second, the borough-owned roads have been hurt by the freeze/thaw cycle more than usual.
Our police department has relocated to 50 North Road offices. This project was brought in under budget and Chester Borough was given recognition for ”Excellence in Governance” from Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and the League of Municipalities for the project due to our approach of using our internal staff, our DPW, for the majority of construction.
The contractor has been delayed on the construction of the proposed solar field behind the 50 North Road offices due to a dispute. This has now been resolved. Construction should occur this year. We project electric utility savings of about $200,000 over the next 15 years with the solar field.
The council approved the upgrade of the HVAC system to install a new energy & cost efficient natural gas system to the balance of the municipal facility early this year. It is now complete and functioning.
All borough departments have now moved out of 300 Main Street. One acre of this property has been earmarked to meet our Affordable Housing needs with Homeless Solutions building and managing a future eight-unit rental housing for qualified applicants.
Meanwhile, we continue to maintain a good relationship with the Chester Board of Education in their leasing of our offices.
Our ratable base has increased year over year by about 2.3%. Average residential home values increased by 3.49%. The net effect to the average homeowner for the change in Municipal Property Taxes (which includes the Library and Open Space Tax) year over year is an increase of $134.00. This tax change is within the 2% Tax Levy Cap as required under New Jersey State Statute.
We continue the goal of stabilizing our Fund Balance (surplus) in order to cushion the Borough against unpredictable events, state-mandated cost increases and the continuation of the 2% Tax Levy Cap.
During 2012, we finalized the bonding of our debt into a long-term fixed rate utilizing the AAA rating of Morris County in order to level our payments and reduce the risk of potential future interest rate changes. The Chester Borough municipal debt levels over the recent four years have been reduced by over $1,700,000 through 2014.
The Pool and Sewer Utility debt is on schedule to be paid off within a few years. The Sewer Utility bonds will be paid off in 2016 and the Pool financing will be paid off in 2018.
When compared against other towns within Morris County, Chester Borough’s total property tax increase over the last 11 years is in the lowest 5 out of 39 towns (reference: Star Ledger). It is significant that while none of us want taxes to go up, the cost of properly maintaining our infrastructure and paying employees that keep our streets and borough safe and in good repair continues to cost more each year. Your elected officials continue to be frugal while maintaining our borough responsibly.
Our employees and all first responders continue to be the greatest asset to the borough. Over the last four years the storms have come and they have done a remarkable job at keeping our roads open and us safe. The Mayor and Council wish to once again thank them for their continuous efforts in keeping us safe and maintaining the borough to the standards we have set.”
In Washington Township news, Township Administrator Andrew Coppola said in a phone interview last week that officials are currently working on a Naughright Road project, and it should be finished by July 25. Repaving will occur within the next week or two, Coppola said.
The drainage portion of the project is already completed, he said, and added that the repaving will occur between Nancy Drive and Janet Terrace on Naughright.
After this, township officials expect the county to begin working on Schooley’s Mountain Road, Coppola said. Prep work will be starting soon, he said, likely by the end of the month. There will be paving and guiderails will be constructed. The work will occur on Schooley’s Mountain Road from where it intersects with Route 24, back up to the police department building.
Also in Washington Township news, the Green Festival and Family Fun Day will be held at Rock Spring Park, on Saturday, Aug. 16. At 11:30 am, there will be a historic baseball game. Entrance is free, hot dogs, hamburgers, corn and popcorn are $1 each. See website Food is donated by Chester Meat Market and Ort Farms.
Coppola said spots are still available for sponsors.
Starting at noon, there will be “green” vendors, local organizations and an obstacle course. The Green Festival is sponsored by the Washington Township Green Team, and Family Fun Day by the Washington Township Recreation Advisory Committee. The Township’s Clean Communities program is sponsoring shows by Rizzo’s Reptiles at noon and 1 p.m. and the Grand Falloons at 2 p.m.The event ends at 4 pm.


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