Brick Budget Battle: Millions in Savings, or 77 Unemployed
Tuesday night, Brick Township voters, taxpayers and members of its Township Council all get their first glimpse of the austerity budget that Mayor Steve Acropolis and Borough Administrator Scott Pezzaras have crafted.
The plan would eliminate the Department of Public Works in an effort to save almost $8,000,000. But Township Council President John Ducey contends that the savings are not what the Mayor projects - and he's not convinced that sending 77 township workers to the unemployment lines is the best way to save money or foster good will.
Ducey asserts that even at its most optimistic, the gross savings would be more on the order of just over $7,000,000. But that doesn't factor in several unavoidable outlays if the department is eliminated.
"There are almost $3,000,000 in costs associated with things such as unemployment benefits and other contractual obligations due to any type of severance," says Ducey. Plus, there are the costs of hiring outside contractors for collection of garbage, recyclables, and bulk items; municipal vehicle repair; buildings and grounds maintenance; and snow removal, among the routine jobs handled by Public Works staffers.
Ducey characterizes the Mayor's position as a 180 from less than a year ago, when he supported a referendum that allowed his administration to exceed the state-mandated two-percent property tax increase ceiling. Retention of public works and police services were endemic to the ballot that won voter approval in April 2011. Their property tax rate soared 24 percent as extra spending sailed past $8,000,000. Voters answered in November by ousting four longtime Republican Township Council members and electing Ducey, Jim Fozman, Susan Lydecker and Robert Moore.
It isn't the first scaling back of Public Works that the township has seen since Acropolis replaced the convicted former Mayor Joseph Scarpelli. About two dozen were laid off in his first year in office, some hired back after budget crises were resolved.
Ducey says that the governing body isn't convinced that there aren't alternatives, especially since they've been unsuccessful in viewing preliminary figures. "Councilman Fozman, chairman of the Business and Finance Committee, asked to have mini-meetings with the administration to go over the budget before it's presented to the public," he tells us, "so that we could have some knowledge of it, because the public is going to ask us questions about it. But we're being presented with the budget at the same exact time as every member of the public."
According to Ducey, the financial aspect isn't the only concern. There's the idea of neighbors placing neighbors out of jobs - unaccountable on any ledger sheet. Most of the employees, says Ducey, live in town. "They're people who know the town well. They know the streets, they know the people," says Ducey. "And people in town learn trust people they know, who they see time after time doing these services for them."
Mayor Acropolis says that the move has the approval of the state Local Finance Board, and notices that have gone out to the employees indicate that their last day could be March 30th. But Ducey says the Council comb through every department's budget to find alternative savings.
"The Council plans on reviewing the budget, once it is given to us," he says, "to see where we can save taxpayers moneys, so that hopefully we can retain the Department of Public Works."