Mayor Joann Gattinelli says “extensive time and effort” is put into keeping taxes stable, while increasing services offered to residents.
By Krista Cerminaro
Mayor Joann Gattinelli introduced the 2018 municipal operating and capital budget at the council meeting on Wednesday, March 28.
“For the second consecutive year, the annual operating budget for 2018 — there [is] no municipal tax increase without any reduction in municipal services. In fact, municipal services are being enhanced in order to improve the quality of life that Washington Township residents expect and deserve,” Gattinelli said.
According to Gattinelli, the 2018 capital budget will include continuation of the roads and fleet management program, which entails purchasing 10 new police vehicles and completing police administration building improvements, overhauling the retention program for permanent records by purchasing new scanning equipment and software, and reopening Washington Lake with walking and bike paths.
Gattinelli noted municipal services, such as the “Shop Washington Township” program, for example, are being enhanced, and police presence within the township, as well as in schools, will increase.
“We have collaborated with our police and the school district to discuss an increase of the number of SRO officers to boost safety in our schools,” Gattinelli said.
According to chief financial officer Colette Bachich, the surplus at the beginning of 2018 was $8.5 million.
Gattinelli said the 2018 budget will use $3.4 million of the surplus, bringing the ending balance to approximately $5 million.
The surplus meets the criteria of the township’s informal surplus policy to retain between 10 percent and 15 percent of the operating budget, according to Gattinelli.
“Total appropriations for 2017 increased due to the cost-of-living adjustments and several non-discretionary statutory expenditures, especially health insurance and pension costs, which increased by 8.9 percent,” Gattinelli added. “Despite these factors, we will still be able to keep the total increase and appropriations at approximately 3 percent.”
Projected non-tax budgeted revenues will increase by roughly $1.2 million — or 3 percent — over last year, according to Gattinelli.
“Most of this increase is attributed to local revenues increasing, which includes fees associated with abandoned properties and construction code fees, and permit fees associated with new development, which increased by 24 percent,” Gattinelli explained. “Due to the modest increase, and appropriations and the expected increase in revenues, due to redevelopment and economic development in the township, the introduction of the 2018 municipal budget allows for the township to keep the 2018 tax rate equal to last year’s municipal tax rate of 0.6573 percent.”
A budget hearing will be held on May 9.
Chief of Police Pat Gurcsik also spoke about the police portion of the budget at the meeting.
Gurcsik addressed a resident’s inquiry at the Jan. 24 meeting regarding ordinance 1–2018. Gurcsik noted the ordinance raised police department staffing from 81 to 85 full-time officers, and eliminated two sergeant positions and one lieutenant position, saving the township more than $350,000.
According to Gurcsik, a new patrolman’s base salary is $39,500, excluding the additional costs for benefits, and Washington Township’s officers are paid less than Monroe, Woodbury and Glassboro officers.
“If this budget is approved, we will be able to hire six additional police officers this year,” Gurcsik said, noting there are 74 full-time police officers, which is considered understaffed according to a population ratio used by the FBI and International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The FBI ratio suggests the township have 85 officers, and the IACP ratio suggests 90.
Gurcsik noted the WTPD answered more than 50,000 calls for service last year, made more than 2,000 arrests, and overall, the township has a higher crime index among Gloucester County municipalities.
Additionally, Gurcsik said an increase in construction increases the number of calls for service, a larger police presence will help deter drug use — especially among teens — and officers have increased their presence in schools dating back to September.
“Mayor Gattinelli and I will continue our pledge to put public safety as a top priority,” Gurcsik said.
In other news,
• Tax collector Robin Sarlo provided information about tax programs available to residents.
“The state offers several programs beneficial to senior citizens, disabled persons, veterans and other property owners that meet certain qualifications,” Sarlo said.
Sarlo explained various programs available to eligible residents, including a property tax reimbursement program, homestead benefit credit, a $250 tax deduction for seniors, disabled persons and veterans, and tax exemptions for totally disabled veterans. Sarlo noted forms and applications are available at the tax collection office.
• Sarlo also spoke about the township’s level of surplus.
“The township administration has spent several years accumulating the surplus that we currently have by keeping spending under control and increasing revenue,” Sarlo said. “However, just because 2017 ended with excess surplus does not mean 2018 or 2019 will — as an example, the recent snowstorms will cost the township hundreds of thousands of dollars, which we did not need to spend in 2017.”
Sarlo explained the township administration and council must keep enough surplus available to use in future budgets, in the event the township experiences a reduction in revenue or increase in expenditures. Several years ago, when they didn’t have an adequate surplus, Sarlo said there were tax increases and layoffs of township personnel.
• Gattinelli introduced a new Washington Township app that will be implemented in the next few months and can be downloaded on smartphones for free. The app will include categories such as Shop Washington Township, Washington Township Saves Lives, offers, events and more. It will also include 311 alerts for residents to where they can report non-emergency service requests, such as potholes and fallen trees, according to Gattinelli. Residents will also be able to access a calendar with scheduled events and meetings.
• Gattinelli recognized Brandon Searles and Joshua Vincent Ticcino, of Scout Troop 57, for achieving the rank of Eagle Scout.
• Council introduced ordinance 007–2018, the addition of a no parking area across the frontage of Hurffville-Crosskeys Road, of an area being developed. Ordinance 008–2018 was also introduced, which added a section requested by Gloucester County to help control the feral cat population. According to the agenda, the addition will allow for a trap, neuter and release of the cats, which is being paid for by Gloucester County. A public hearing and adoption for both ordinances will be held on April 11.
To view the full meeting agenda, visit www.twp.washington.nj.us/221/Township-Council.