BUDGET STILL MIDDLETOWN’S HOT TOPIC

byrnes-fingerSean Byrnes prodded his fellow committee members to reassess its budget planning process Monday night. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Now that Middletown has a budget in place, tax bills are starting to arrive in mailboxes.

As is customary, there’s some literature along with the bills to explain how the taxes for the year break down. But this year’s fact sheet is rubbing some people the wrong way, including the committee’s lone Democrat, who says, well, it really isn’t all that factual.

And so the budget dispute continues, one month after the $64.5 million spending plan was approved and one month before voters cast ballots.

At Monday night’s workshop meeting, a resident asked committeeman Sean Byrnes if he knew anything about the flier attached to the tax bills. He did, and said he didn’t agree with how the facts were presented or that taxpayers paid for it.

“It’s obviously an effort to make the budget look better than it is,” Byrnes said of the flier.

Details of the budget have been disputed for months. Byrnes, who is up for re-election in November, said the municipal portion increased by more than 11 percent, while the Republican side of the township committee maintains it only went up by 2.6 percent, which is true if you take all other components of tax bills — school and county taxes — into account.

Byrnes also has a problem with the letter saying Middletown lost $10 million in revenue.

“That’s just flat-out wrong,” he said.

The letter is riddled with spin, Byrnes said, and, in a departure from previous years, he didn’t get a look at it before it was sent out.

“I never saw this until I got it in the mail. And what bugs me is it’s got my name on it,” he said.

Monday night, Byrnes went through his now-regular spiel urging the committee reform its budget practice, starting with the formation of a finance committee. But his Republican counterparts aren’t on board.

Deputy Mayor Anthony Fiore defended the budget, saying the town was hit with unexpected costs, and having operated a slim budget, it was bound to cause pain on this year’s spending and the town doesn’t need another layer of bureaucracy to tell him that.

“Where we are, how we got there, we got the answers before,” he said. “It’s economics 101. We’ve been running bare bones budgets for, I think, a decade. Any type of committee or task force, the results would be the results.”

Also on Monday night, the committee approved a $2.6 million appropriation to cover costs for lost tax appeals.