STATE AID CUT FORCES ‘SEVERE CHOICES’

dupontCouncilman Michael DuPont delivers the bad news Monday night. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Layoffs, furloughs and a reduction in services, once considered elements of a worst-case scenario, will now be a reality in Red Bank, officials said Monday.

“We’ve made some severe choices, we’re going to make severe choices, and you’re going to see them,” Councilman Michael DuPont, who chairs the finance committee, said at last night’s Borough Council meeting.

The grim news comes on the heels of word that the borough, already saddled with what officials have called the extraordinary burden of providing services to a large number of tax-exempt nonprofits, will see a drop of $517,144 in state aid this year. Traditionally the borough has received $2.5 million, DuPont said.

This, after the borough pressed its local legislators to advocate for a less severe cut, considering that the town’s 16 non-profits account for an approximate $320 million loss in taxable property value.

Clearly the council is chafed that didn’t happen, and a war of words that started last month between the council and legislators Jennifer Beck, Declan O’Scanlon and Caroline Casagrande continued Monday night.

“My state senator (Beck) hasn’t even talked to me about how the state can help me. I haven’t heard from her in a month,” said Mayor Pasquale Menna. “How’s that for representation in Trenton?”

Residents are going to feel the sting of the finance committee’s actions when it finalizes a budget, DuPont said. Although specific actions, such as raising taxes, aren’t yet certain, the council declared its hands tied when it comes to finding ways to balance the coming year’s budget.

“You may not see your trash being picked up twice a week. You’re not going to see the employees as much. You’re going to see layoffs,” DuPont said.

All employees are being looked at as potential candidates for layoffs and no specific departments have been targeted, he said.

The council has bemoaned its struggles to generate revenue, a much-needed complement to this year’s reduction in operating expenses and debt, in order to balance the coming year’s budget. DuPont said the council will continue to seek out shared services with neighboring towns and find other ways to tip the scales.

At Monday’s meeting, the council approved a 10-percent water rate increase as a step toward that goal.

Former council candidate Kim Senkeleski, pointing to the council’s recent decision to hold off on suspending longevity pay for borough employees, tried to sway the council to table the rate hike and look for other cost-saving measures. She presented the council with a petition signed by 100 residents, she said, against the increase. By ordinance, rates will increase from $4.84 to $5.32 per 100-cubic feet. Sewer fees were also increased.

But again, the council cast the spotlight on its cut in state aid as the chief factor driving the decision, and dismissed Senkeleski’s plea.

It seems that a higher cost per flush may only be the first sign of pain.

“Bear with us,” Councilwoman Juanita Lewis said. “It’s not going to be easy for anybody.”

The finance committee will introduce the 2010-11 budget on April 26, tentatively scheduled for 6:30p at Borough Hall, with public input and discussion occurring on April 28 and 29, DuPont said.