VINELAND — Saying it wants a meeting with the mayor first, City Council will take no action next week on an after-the-fact contract with a legal firm that conducted an investigation related to Municipal Court Judge Teofilio Montanez.
The investigation of harassment charges filed against Montanez is apparently complete, City Council members said Tuesday.
City Council members agreed Tuesday not to approve the contract with the Gloucester County firm of Richardson, Galella & Austermuhl until it meets with Mayor Ruben Bermudez. City Council wants Bermudez to brief them on the investigation and provide written proof of which municipal official authorized the investigation.
Montanez was appointed one of the city’s two Municipal Court judges late last year. He subsequently was missing from the bench for several weeks. City officials have not commented on the nature of the complaint and whether it was linked to the absence.
City Solicitor Richard Tonetta said Bermudez has “every right to investigate his employees.”
“But when we have to pay for it, it is our job,” City Councilwoman Angela Calakos said of the $2,006 fiscal authorization.
Councilman Paul Spinelli accused Bermudez of again breaking protocol by proceeding with actions that require City Council action.
“We have no report,” Spinelli said. “We are not going to approve something that we have no report on. We have not seen a professional service agreement. Unless I see a finished report, I don’t know that this work was even done.”
“I don’t even know the status” of the investigation, City Council President Anthony Fanucci added.
In other business, City Council is scheduled to introduce the municipal budget during its regular meeting next week. No details of the spending plan were available Tuesday.
Last year, City Council adopted a $59.4 million budget that decreased local property taxes for the average residential property owner. The 2013 budget increased the amount to be raised by taxation slightly more than $2.1 million to $30.7 million.
The spending plan also set the local property tax rate at 75.8 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The 2012 local purpose tax rate was $1.34 per $100 of assessed property value.
The difference in the local purpose tax rates resulted from the city’s first full revaluation since 1959. The revaluation increased the city’s true market value from $2.1 billion to $4 billion. City officials said the revaluation, ordered by the Cumberland County Board of Taxation in 2010, created a more equitable tax structure for local residents.
The revaluation also changed the average residential property assessment from $95,700 to $159,600.
That meant the owner of a home assessed at the new level paid $1,209 in local purpose taxes in 2013. That represents a $73 decrease from 2012.
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