FIORE: MIDDLETOWN BUDGET WILL MEET CAP

middletown-town-hallBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Now that the Middletown township committee’s gotten the cooperation it asked from the library board, in the way of a half-million dollar transfer to the budget, the pressure now rests on negotiations with six unions to come to an agreement that officials hope will save jobs.

In any case, the committee, unlike last year, will have its budget ready in a timely manner.

Also unlike last year, it won’t be going to Trenton for approval to exceed the tax cap, Mayor Tony Fiore said Monday.

“The budget will comply with the two-percent property tax cap,” he said, offering April 4 as the official date for the budget’s introduction.

Among the last hurdles to be cleared, he said, are concessions from unions.

While no spending figure has officially been released, Township Administrator Anthony Mercantante said the 2011 budget will be “significantly lower” than the current $64.5 million plan.

It appears the township will be tied up, again, with declining revenues and static state aid, and unless legislation is passed to put the proposed mayor’s toolkit in place — a multi-faceted plan to help keep municipalities within the tax cap — shared service agreements will be harder to work out. Middletown is a civil service town, meaning its hiring and firing of employees is governed by civil service rules, thereby making it more difficult to share services with non-civil service towns.

“There are some significant roadblocks,” Fiore said. “Unfortunately we are continually hampered by a lack of cooperation by the state legislature and the state senate.”

When it comes to keeping spending down and retaining jobs, these roadblocks place more weight on the current negotiations with the town’s six unions.

The township filed a layoff plan last week that included 26 employees, who may or may not actually lose their jobs. Those positions, plus others, may be saved through concessions on health and insurance benefits from the unions, Fiore said.The $500,000 transfer from the library’s surplus, which still must be approved by the state library board, is said to help mitigate more layoffs.

Although the township hasn’t made much headway in the contract discussions, Fiore said he’s optimistic favorable agreements will be reached.

“I’m pretty confident that we can come to that agreement and save some jobs,” he said. “If we won’t be able to do that we’ll be forced to move along with our plan.”

The committee’s introduction of the budget will be at its next workshop meeting at 8p April 4 at Town Hall.