VINELAND — Mayor Ruben Bermudez’s special citizens budget advisory committee is making 16 specific recommendations to save the city money, but only a few of those suggestions are likely to be implemented.
Some suggestions — such as early employee buyouts and limiting accrued sick and vacation time — are already governed by state and local law, Bermudez said in a letter to the committee.
The city has already cross-trained many of its employees to do multiple jobs and set the hotel-motel tax at the highest charge allowed by state law, and is reluctant to further reduce overtime because of possible adverse effects, Bermudez told the group.
He said 94 percent of the overtime planned for this year’s city budget will be used for public safety.
Bermudez also flatly rejected increasing by $500,000 the $5 million that the Vineland Municipal Electric Utility donates annually to the budget.
“Electric utility cost and revenue have achieved a balance under the current rate structure,” Bermudez wrote in his letter. “Additional contributions to the city will begin to cause rates to increase. Low electric rates can be extremely important for meaningful economic development in Vineland.”
Among the committee proposals that Bermudez said the city will “continue to explore” or implement are the use of natural-gas-powered vehicles, providing more detailed explanations of miscellaneous budget line items, reviewing existing payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements, and early reviews of departmental operating budgets.
One committee recommendation that remains on the table involves doing away with runoff elections, something that local officials say could save the city about $75,000 per election. Bermudez and his City Council slate won their seats in December runoff balloting.
City Council in January authorized what turned into a seven-member Vineland Budget Review Advisory Committee. Committee members were appointed by both Bermudez, who promised during his mayoral campaign to allow more public input into the budget, and City Council.
The committee, whose membership expires Dec. 31, serves for advisory purposes only and is not an official city government function. Committee members had access only to documents that could be released in accordance with the state’s Open Public Records Act.
Earlier this month, City Council voted 4-0 to ask the state Division of Local Government Services to allow the municipality to adopt its budget by May 14 instead of April 26. Local officials said they needed the extension in part to determine how a recent revaluation would affect the fiscal plan and to give the new city administration, which took office in January, more time to develop the budget.
In a letter to the mayor, committee Chairman Joseph Donchez said that panel members spent a “prodigious amount of time” reviewing information before making their recommendations.
“It is our hope that we have been successful in this endeavor,” Donchez wrote in the letter.
Donchez could not be reached for comment.
City officials said they are still working toward a final budget.
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