Mayor Joann Gattinelli provides insight and updates of what the administration has been working on during the first quarter.
At the council meeting on March 22, I was very happy to address the residents and give updates from “behind the scenes” within the administration. For those who were unable to attend, the following is an overview of what we have been working on as an administration. I am pleased to announce that our draft budget’s preliminary findings show there is no anticipated increase in municipal property taxes for the year 2017. In fact, after public sessions with the department heads, council and administration, there is the possibility we may see a small reduction in 2017 municipal property taxes. Administration, through extensive work with the department heads, has worked diligently to make sure all operational revenues and appropriations are consistent with the needs of the township. As in previous years, a reasonable amount of surplus was needed to balance the budget. However, due to the amount in reserve and the projected efficiency in managing operations in 2017, it is projected that the reasonable amount of surplus needed could be regenerated, increasing the surplus to a prudent governmental standard.
We have set our public open budget hearing dates for Tuesday, April 4 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursday, April 6 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. These hearings will be held in the council room. Introduction of the 2017 municipal budget is anticipated to take place at the council meeting on April 12, and adoption of the 2017 municipal budget is anticipated to take place during the council meeting on May 10.
As I have mentioned in previous messages, we recently implemented small group workshops, in addition to the public open budget hearings mentioned above, to create the opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue in a small group setting to positively move the town forward, as it relates to the budget. To accommodate those who work during the day, we have added two additional small group budget workshops on the evenings of Tuesday, April 4 and Monday, April 10, both from 6 p.m. to 6:45 p.m., in addition to the already scheduled Thursdays at 11 a.m. Please call Megan Tahan at (856) 589–0520, ext. 287, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your time slot and date.
A few cost-savings initiatives we have proactively taken include putting the township’s banking services out to RFP (Request for Financial Proposal), allowing us to reduce fees and increase services and credit interest rates. The business administrator and I have also met with property tax card services to obtain information about creating a “Shop Washington Township” program. This program could add third quarter annual property tax rebates for residents who shop and patronize businesses within Washington Township. This can also increase revenues to local businesses by encouraging customer loyalty to businesses within Washington Township. We are looking to present the program in the second half of 2017.
I am happy to say Councilman Joseph Perry recently brought in an outside health-care consultant to perform a free cost-analysis for the township employees’ health plans and make recommendations based on the exact demographics of our active and retired employees. The consultant’s findings are that creating a new option within the NJ State Health Benefits Plan could save approximately 17 percent for active employees and 12 percent for retired employees. Washington Township’s implementation of this new option could reflect savings of approximately $852,000 per year.
At my direction, the business administrator has been working with the department heads from public works, zoning and construction, as well as the chief of police, to put together a formal vehicle fleet replacement and accountability plan. This plan involves reducing insurance payments by eliminating obsolete and unused vehicles between the departments. This cost-reduction plan will allow for reducing the fleet size, selling specific vehicles to recoup funds and create efficiency, so we are using our resources wisely. The business administrator and chief financial officer are also working with Enterprise to perform an in-depth study and evaluation to explore a hybrid model of fleet leasing, among exploring other options, to further reducing fuel and service cost. Currently, we have 74 out of 154 vehicles that are more than ten years old and many pre-date anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control safety features. Safety enhancements will allow the township to further reduce insurance costs.
I continue to work closely with the Economic Development Committee to develop plans to bring in new businesses and retain existing businesses. We are looking to make the process of bringing business to Washington Township efficient for the business owners and developers by re-structuring our involvement when needed. We are willing to do the difficult work and ask the difficult questions so we can make Washington Township known as a place that is business-friendly.
I would like to thank all the residents of Washington Township for your support. Thank you to the many individuals who have reached out to me directly to offer their confidence and constructive ideas. We appreciate your patience as we listen to your concerns, find different ways to move the township forward and do what is truly best for our deserving residents.
Joann Gattinelli is the mayor of Washington Township. She can be reached at email@example.com.