Curbside trash pickup and several police officers are on the chopping block in a proposed preliminary budget for 2012.
Medford Township Manager Chris Schultz unveiled the $18,377,628 budget proposal at a recent council meeting. Last year’s budget was $21,870,040.
Along with trash, brush and leaf pickup, recreation programs are slated for elimination.
In the preliminary budget, four police officers would be laid off and a retiring lieutenant would not be replaced.
“The township’s financial position has been compounded over the last few years,” Schultz said. “The budget gap is so large that there’s simply not enough revenue to support continuing the service levels that Medford has enjoyed over a period of time.”
He said the situation has forced him to consider what the role government should play in the township.
“One challenge that I’ve questioned is whether government should be competing with what the private market can provide,” Schultz said. “Maybe, historically, there were no trash vendors, there were no landscapers — but in today’s world there are.”
He also looked at what municipal government is required to provide by law.
For example, there are statutes that mandate the township have a clerk, an assessor and a tax collector.
“Long-term, I believe we reset the way we provide services,” Schultz said.
He also said the five new councilmen understand the gravity of the situation and are actively soliciting input from community.
“I think they’re taking this challenge head on,” Schultz said.
He said he has wrestled with the idea of cutting police positions.
“I have concerns, but at the end of the day, I have no revenue to support providing a level of support the town is used to getting,” Schultz said, noting he would advise against cutting police budget any further.
“It’s a tough position,” he said. “It’s a math and money problem for Medford.”
Mayor James “Randy” Pace said there is “nothing new, earth shattering, unknown, unexpected” in the preliminary budget that has “no surprises.
“Right now my biggest concern is simply getting the information regarding revenue,” Pace said. “All of this is ,preliminary and until we have some more firm numbers about revenue, it’s hard to say what needs to be cut.”
The mayor said he is confident the council, the public and Schultz will find ways to make up any difference.
“I’m a taxpayer in Medford. I like my trash being picked up,” Pace said. “The reality of the situation is, we can’t afford it.”
He also echoed Schultz’s idea that the private sector could be used to provide services the township presently does.
Pace said the township is not prohibiting trash from being picked up, but that it most likely would not offer the service any longer.
“My municipal government needs to operate within its means and if that’s not within its means, then it needs to be eliminated,” he said.
Pace also said he doesn’t think the safety of the town will drop because of the layoff of police officers.
“The community of Medford is a good community — and it has been for a very long time,” he said.
“Do I believe we have a need for two officers for every 1,000 people in the township of Medford? No,” Pace said. “I think that the requirements for Medford’s policing don’t rely entirely on the police department as much as it relies on the public itself.
“Our safety’s not tied to the number of police officers we put on the street. If somebody makes a decision to commit a crime, they’re going to commit that crime whether there’s one officer or 1,000.”
He also said the problem is not the number of police officers, but the salaries that the police officers earn.
“Unfortunately the property taxes we get aren’t enough to pay for everything we have, including the salaries for the police officers in Medford,” Pace said, noting some police officers earn more than $100,000 a year.
“Maybe we should have not gotten to that point,” he said.
“There are no silver bullets, there are no simple solutions. Everybody needs to put on their big boy pants and figure out ways to do things better with less,” Pace said. “We’re a community and we’re going to get through this.”