NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The City Council unanimously approved a budget of $76.1 million for general expenses for the year 2012.
The budget means that homeowners will have their property taxes go up again by about 6.5 cents for every $100 of assessed property value.
Given the average home value in New Brunswick of $118,000, that means the average homeowner's tax bill will be about $75 higher than it was last year.
The budget lays out expenses by each division of each department. The single biggest departmental spending increase (by percentage) goes to staff of the Youth Services System (YSS). It went up from $56,308.67 in 2011 to $172,851.50.
But the most peculiar increase comes for the Office of Mayor James Cahill. In 2011, the Mayor's Office paid its seven staff members (including Cahill) $277,787.14 this year, more than $22,000 above what the budget had appropriated.
But in the proposed 2012 budget, Cahill and his staff are looking at a 50% increase in salaries and wages over the 2011 numbers. Instead of the $255,577 appropriated last year, the Council voted to increase that appropriation to a whopping $382,727.
The increase is partly to make room for Chris Butler, a longtime employee of the Mayor's Office, whose salary has always been covered by the Economic Development Department until this year. Butler's salary is being absorbed entirely by the Mayor's Office in the 2012 budget.
Butler also recieved a $1,000 raise and now makes $81,000, according to Business Administrator Thomas Loughlin.
But that only explains about two-thirds of the $127,150 increase in the salaries and wages.
Loughlin said the remainder is for a new assistant to help coordinate the Mayor's schedule.
Other major factors in this year's budget were ongoing contract negotiations with the city's fire department unions and the phasing out of New Jersey's Urban Enterprise Zone program, which has funded downtown clean-up crews and shuttle bus service.
The budget includes the hiring of seven police officers and fourteen firefighters. All of the police officers and seven of the firefighters have already been hired, leaving seven open positions in the fire department.
The city also set aside $500,000 for "salary adjustments," which could likely go to firefighters and superior officers in the Fire Department as 3.5 years of retroactive pay if their unions sign new contracts.
Those two unions are the only municipal unions in New Brunswick without a contract.
"We've been debating, sometimes arguing," Loughlin said of the negotiations, but added he was confident they had been moving closer to an agreement.
City Planning Director Glenn Patterson said that Gov. Christie cut all Urban Enterprise Zone funding to the city over a year ago and kept the funds for the state, though businesses in the zone can still charge half-price sales tax.
Surprisingly, Mayor Cahill told the Star-Ledger last year that he welcomed the end of the program, which has brought millions to the city's business areas during his tenure.
"I think [ending the UEZ program] opens the door to some real opportunities for economic development, job creation if they establish a program that is well-designed and well-managed… There are significant inefficiencies and bureaucracies in the UEZ program," Cahill said in a February 2011 article.
Last year, as the state was ending payments to cities in the program, New Brunswick spent the remaining $1.3 million of UEZ funds and now has find other ways to provide the same services.
"We get no revenue. What we have had are revenues that had already been generated and put in our local account and we have been using that to fund the existing programs that we have."
The revenues came from sales tax charged by businesses in the UEZ. In addition to the half-price rate, the sales tax revenue would be split between the city and state. Now, the state keeps all sales tax revenue, as they do outside of UEZ's.
Last year's budget appropriated $234,855 in UEZ money for a clean team to keep business areas free of litter and an additional $245,053 to fund various shuttle buses throughout the city. Another $825,058 in the 2011 budget came from UEZ with no specific destination.
Loughlin said that much of the funds last year went to the recent re-build of George Street.
Salaries and wages for the Division of Health will drop by 12% and City Clerk's office will drop by 11%, while the Engineering Department will see a boost of 23% in its salaries and wages.
More taxpayer dollars will go towards staff in the Office of the Director of Law, supervised by City Attorney William Hamilton. That office will see a 30.8% bump in salaries and wages.
This increase reflects a new full-time employee who is shared by the Departments of Law and Administration in a unique arrangement, as well as a retirement of a longtime city worker, the addition of three seasonal employees, and a pay raise for Assistant City Attorney Charley Gayden, according to Loughlin.
At this week's Council meeting, Hamilton indicated Ms. Gayden's pay raise was for her work as a community liason, a role she was assigned after the police killing of Barry Deloatch.
She estimated she has heard 10 to 15 complaints about police conduct in her capacity as the liason, but none of the individuals were interested in pursuing a hearing before the judicial hearing officer Judson Hamlin.
In addition to taxes, fines, and penalties, the city expects to make more than $13.2 million in "payments in lieu of taxes" (PILOTs). PILOTs will be paid by the city's housing authority ($31,000), parking authority ($4.15 million), Rutgers University ($700,000), University Center ($55,314.46) and various other tax-exempt properties including many development projects that were granted special exemptions.
Though only $200,000 was anticipated from the city's red light camera program in 2011, the program brought in $515,102.25. In the 2012 budget, the city is anticipating another $500,000.
The city is also anticipating more revenue from a fee businesses must pay to hire off-duty police officers for security or traffic control. Due to a boom in construction, Loughlin said the city is expecting to take in $600,000 this year, an increase of $250,000 over the prior year.
Projected revenue from a similar fee charged if a police vehicle is required was adjusted from $240,000 to $200,000. Both fees were increased in 2011.
And finally, the city's Animal Control Division, which serves New Brunswick and Highland Park, will now be managed by the Police Department and all employees will be considered police civilians.