VINELAND — City Council on Wednesday began reviewing a proposed municipal budget that would tentatively increase taxes and reduce the local government work force.
The number of city workers who may lose their jobs is yet to be determined, Council President Anthony Fanucci said.
Council will hold additional budget reviews and should know by the end of next week how many employees may be let go, he said.
The proposed $60.1 million budget would set the local purpose tax rate at 77 cents per $100 of assessed property value. That is about a 6 percent increase from last year.
That means the owner of a home assessed at $150,000 would pay $1,156 in local-purpose taxes this year, or $70.66 more than 2013. The average residential property in the city is assessed at slightly more than $150,000.
Mayor Ruben Bermudez states in his budget message to council that the bad news regarding his proposed fiscal plan reflects the poor economic times.
“We … assumed office at a time when our revenues are continuing to decrease, and our tax base is weakening owing to a weakened national economy,” he said. “Our budget reflects other challenges, such as a changing tax base where many families do not enjoy regular, constant work as in the past, and often are moving out for better opportunities elsewhere.”
Councilman Paul Spinelli was more direct, saying, “We are in a fiscal crisis.”
Spinelli said he wants every city department to come up with 2 percent to 3 percent cuts in their budgets. That would allow council to know best what could be cut from those budgets if necessary, he said.
“I’m dead serious,” Spinelli said of his budget-cut requests. “If they don’t cooperate, then Paul Spinelli is going to do the cuts on his own, and I don’t know if they’ll be happy about it.”
One thing city Chief Financial Officer Roxanne Tosto asked council to do during its budget reviews this and next week is to try to find a way to stop supporting the budget with one-time revenue items. This budget will be missing $712,000 in one-time revenues, something that translates into 2½ cents on the local-purpose tax rate, she said.
Like Fanucci, Bermudez states in his budget message that the number of city workers who might wind up unemployed remains unknown.
“I now am in the process of conducting organizational right-sizing of city employees, rather than pursue a strategy to create an additional burden to the taxpayer,” he said. “In a perfect world, we would not undertake such drastic measures but, unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.”
The $60.1 million budget as proposed by Bermudez is more than $961,000 less than last year’s spending plan.
However, the spending plan anticipates an almost $3.4 million decrease in locally collected government revenues, and an additional $1.4 million decrease in federal and state grants, according to documents provided by the city.
Meanwhile, salaries and wages are increasing by more than $913,000, the documents show. The reserve for uncollected taxes totals slightly more than $3 million, an almost $808,000 increase from 2013, they show. The reserve is the amount of money a municipality must raise by taxation to make up for uncollected taxes.
“That’s a significant hit,” Tosto said of the reserve.
The city proposes to raise $30.8 million through local taxation. That is a 6 percent increase from the $29.3 million raised last year through local taxation.
One of the departments reviewed by council was police.
And while Bermudez is proposing to lay off municipal workers, council indicated it might be in the best interest of the Police Department to hire about 8 Class II officers to bolster the ranks.
While the officers would have to be paid, it would result in a decrease in overtime, Spinelli said. The hirings would also allow for increased law-enforcement efforts, he said.
Police Chief Timothy Codispoti said his department would likely have to reduce public safety efforts if no Class II officers are hired and overtime is cut.
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