Mayor: Budget burden goes to 'bottom of food chain'
By JEREMY ROSEN Courier-Post staff June 18, 2008

Many local municipalities have been stung by the state's $32.86 billion 2009 budget deal reached Monday between the Legislature and Gov. Jon. S. Corzine.

The plan has mayors reeling over possible municipal ramifications. And some have been forced to make changes.

Gloucester Township Mayor Cindy Rau-Hatton said the governor has passed the burden to municipalities that have no one to pass it on to but residents.

"We're at the bottom of the food chain," she said. "I'm not happy about it at all."

Under the plan, Rau-Hatton said, Gloucester Township has lost some $1.1 million in state aid from last year, including $500,000 in "extraordinary aid," a supplement to regular state aid. To cope, she said, municipal services will only be available from Monday through Thursday to cut gas and energy costs, and come July, workers are expected to work four-day, 40-hour weeks.

"We might cut back programs, but I don't want to say yet. It could be devastating," she said.

Cinnaminson Township Mayor William Ben Young agreed and said it is "obviously a difficult time" for all towns. Cinnaminson, he said, will lose $199,000 in state aid and have its state pension contribution increase around $450,000.

"Somehow you have to reduce forces. I don't know how else, at this point," he said.

At the end of May, Cinnaminson officials voted to transfer the town's dispatch services to Burlington County's central dispatch system. Although former town dispatchers lost their jobs in Cinnaminson, most were extended opportunities to work in the county system, Young said. He said it saved the town $250,000.

"That should cover this year," Young said. "Though who's to say where it'll go next year?"

Young said he doesn't plan on waiting around for next year, and figuring out other ways to generate revenues is key. He said he's looked into potential bid opportunities for cell phone towers and traffic light management revenue.

"So many costs are increasing rapidly. I see the next two years to continue to be difficult," he said, until the economy turns around and energy costs get under control.

Controlled cutbacks are avenues that Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley said he and his staff members have already explored in anticipation of decreased state aid. He said Collingswood will lose $199,000 in state aid under the plan.

"The state has done absolutely nothing to help. We've tightened the belts, but haven't laid anyone off," Maley said, noting he does not plan to fill three vacancies in the town's 11-member public works department.

"It has forced us to deliver less in services. It won't be the same. We'll be slower on upkeep of infrastructure and fixing peoples' backed up sewers," he said.

Maley said he is running out of options, as the town reduced its administrative staff from 15 to 10 over the last five years, has cut back on employee cell phones "across the board" and changed its car policy to disallow off-the-clock town employees the right to drive municipal vehicles.

"It saves money, but the only way to really save is to cut people," he said, "but we won't this year. We're bare-boned in the fire department for 24-7 coverage and public safety is number one, so we won't cut the police department at all."

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