Money matters: Council addresses upcoming budget, Kings Highway delays

Moorestown residents could see a tax increase in 2018.

Fiscal responsibility was the subject of much discussion at last Monday night’s council meeting. From a preliminary budget presentation to questions about the cost of delayed work at the Kings Highway water treatment plant, council addressed an array of the township’s financial issues.

Township Manager and Chief Financial Officer Thomas Merchel provided council with a brief overview of the 2018 budget the council will discuss in the coming weeks. He said the township is in “a very good financial position right now.”

Merchel said as he constructed it, the proposed municipal tax levy to be raised is $16,689,211, which is an increase of $253,356 over last year. He said ratables increased by $12.4 million, and the proposed tax rate is 41.4 cents, which is an increase of one half of one cent over last year.

The total local purpose tax, which includes all municipal services, would have the average assessed home of $450,470 paying $1,864.95, which is an increase of $23.53 over last year.

“We’ll go into more detail in this when we set up the budget hearings,” Merchel said. “This is the budget as it’s being proposed to council.”

Merchel said he anticipates it taking between three or four meetings to finalize the budget with council. He said he didn’t see any reason why the budget could not be finalized for public presentation later this month if council is available for those meetings.

Following those meetings, Merchel said he needs approximately a week and a half to assemble the budget. He said once presented, council cannot adopt the budget any sooner than 28 days after it is introduced.

In line with the financial discussions, resident Michael Babcock approached council to inquire about the monetary impact of delays to the Kings Highway water treatment plant.

Babcock said he passes the plant on his drive to work each day, and since the plant has not recently appeared to be any closer to completion, he took it upon himself to look into the delays. He said he went to the township and looked at the contract.

“I was surprised to see that the timeline for it to be done was last October, and here we are in April,” Babcock said.

He said the contract includes penalties for each day past the proposed completion date, and he asked if the township is collecting on those penalties.

“We are not,” Merchel said. “We did put the contractor on notice back in December that this potentially could happen.”

Merchel said there were extenuating circumstances that resulted in the delays. He said there were issues with the design of the water feed lines that required a change to the original permit. He said issues with the PH level going through at the filter level required an additional line to get the water at the proper levels.

He said they are waiting for the Department of Environmental Protection to approve that permit. Since filing their initial permit, a new law has come into place requiring the township to test the system before putting any new water in.

“This is the DEP, so once you get back in their cycle of things, they drag it down, and it slows the process,” Councilman Michael Locatell said.

Babcock said given the delays, he suggests additional oversight when the township begins work at the plants on Hartford Road and Church Street.

Merchel said he has discussed the idea of hiring someone to do the engineering and design and someone to do the construction management moving forward.

“I do think there is a benefit to be gained rather than having the same eyes,” Merchel said.

Merchel said he has yet to receive a bill during the delay period and cannot estimate what the township will pay.

The next meeting of Moorestown Township council will take place on Monday, April 23, at 7:30 p.m.