COUNCIL NIXES CALL FOR TAXPAYER SUMMIT

img_6886011110Councilman Mike DuPont, left, addresses his opponent in last year’s election, Kim Senkeleski, as Councilman Ed Zipprich listens. (Click to enlarge)

A proposal by 2009 Republican council candidate Kim Senkeleski for a “taxpayer’s summit” to gather direct citizen input on the Red Bank budget failed to find any support last night from members of the all-Democrat borough council.

They say there already is such an event held annually as the budget is being developed.

Senkeleski, of John Street, last month suggested to the council that it help her organize a citizens’ equivalent of the ‘economic summit‘ organized by local officials a year ago to address issues related to weak economic conditions.

Senkeleski argued that the format of the existing budget walk-through event inhibited attendance and participation by citizens. It consists of presentations by the head of each borough department on the rationale for funding requests as the budget is put together.

Senkeleski said last night that the current meeting, held in the spring, is one that “nobody seems to care about.” She also said it was “reactive,” as opposed to the “proactive” quality of what she was proposing.

“I see no harm in creating a forum to let people express their ideas,” she said. To prevent it from becoming unwieldy, Senkeleski said she could act as a liaison to solicit suggestions from residents and present them to elected officials via email or at the meeting.

As it did initially, the proposal got a cool reception. Councilman Mike DuPont, who as head of the governing body’s finance committee initiated the budget presentations two years ago, and who faced off against Senkeleski in last year’s election, challenged Senkeleski’s characterization of the existing event.

“It’s interactive. People can ask questions,” he said. “I don’t agree with your assessment that it’s not proactive, that it’s reactive. Quite the contrary.”

He said he welcomed all input as the budget is built, and said that this year’s might benefit especially from suggestions because of anticipated cuts in state aid and declines in other forms of revenue.

“It’s the residents who are the liaisons,” he said. “The residents are always welcome to these sessions.”

Citizen input of any kind is also welcome, he said. “Bring the comments, bring the ideas, bring the criticisms,” he said.

Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels questioned the need for a second event.

“The issue is, why another forum?” Sickels asked. “Why can’t we do it in the forum that was set up to do that? Why can’t you email your comments now?”

No date has yet been set for the budget presentation, DuPont said.

While department heads have already been asked to slash their funding requests, the finance committee, he said, will be developing a parallel ‘doomsday’ budget to put into consideration should Goveror-elect Chris Christie follow through on a pledge to slash funding to municipalities.

Mayor Pasquale Menna said that the borough had slashed fees it pays to professional attorneys, after Kenny Pringle, the Belmar mayor who doubles as Red Bank’s lawyer, voluntarily cut his hourly fee by 20 percent.

Menna said he had demanded, and gotten, at least 20 percent cuts in hourly rates from attorneys for the planning and zoning boards. He also said no town attorney would be paid more than the borough attorney, as had happened in the past, and that attorneys will now be paid by the hour, instead of an annual fee that allowed them to collect even when meetings were canceled.

Here’s a letter Senkeleski wrote to Menna and DuPont about her proposal: taxpayer-summit-letter-to-menna-and-dupont-2