The Berlin Borough Council introduced the tentative 2019-2020 budget for first approval at its March meeting. According to Chief Financial Officer Debbie DiMattia, the proposed tax rate is higher than last year’s.
For the average home in the borough assessed at $233,600, residents can expect an increase of $53 in taxes. At council’s next meeting on April 11 at the municipal building at 7 p.m., there will be a public hearing on the budget.
Moving forward over the next few years, council has identified two capital projects – continued improvement of locally owned roads and improvements within the water and sewer department.
As previously reported by The Sun, Environmental Resolutions, Inc. performed an evaluation of all locally owned roads, rating roads on three factors – condition, road type and traffic, with condition being the most heavily graded aspect.
After completing the evaluation, a five-year program was proposed by ERI to work on roads and specific neighborhoods in the order of most need, as stated by the report. Over the five years, the program estimates an average annual budget of approximately $200,000, however municipal aid grants are available to help offset prices.
Councilman Dan MacDonnell has previously stated that before work or change is implemented in neighborhoods council will hold public meetings to ensure potential changes are discussed with residents.
“I want the people to have some input, because if that’s completely unacceptable to the people that live there, then we need to know that,” MacDonnell said in a previous interview with The Sun. “So it’s really for community feedback on the possible solutions to the traffic issue.”
Councilman Ron Rocco, chairman for water and sewer, said the New Jersey Water Quality Accountability Act requires annual improvements to be made.
Overall, approximately 10 projects are on the docket for the water and sewer departments, totaling approximately $1.3 million.
Fortunately, Rocco says the municipality is still very much ahead of other towns, has had a proactive approach in recent years and has been able to make changes when needed.
“We’ve been very proactive with this, we’re way above the curve,” Rocco said. “Berlin Borough is out in front of everybody. I like to say that our water department and our sewer department is probably the best in the county.”
For example, the act requires all hydrants be labeled, something Berlin Borough has already done. Moving forward, the NJWQAA requires that all valves within water and sewer be exercised every four years. With approximately 1,750 valves under Berlin Borough control, they will be exercising more than 400 per year.
According to Rocco, some valves have not been exercised in over 20 years. Some of the proposed capital projects are to put plans in place in the event the department of public works encounters problems when exercising valves, such as having an established contract with an emergency service that can fix valve problems as quickly as possible, saving time. Otherwise, after a problem is identified, the work would have to go through a bidding process before it can be fixed.
All the projects come with an estimated date of completion and their own cost, leading to the total cost of $1.3 million. However, Rocco says projects as of late within water and sewer have been going well.
“So far we’ve been lucky with our projects, we’ve been coming under cost and completed ahead of schedule,” Rocco said. “So we’ve been pretty fortunate there.”
Councilman Mike Buchanan, chairman of finance, said the borough is in a great situation moving forward financially, where such large capital projects are possible to afford with small change to the borough budget due to the past and current work of Berlin Borough CFOs over the years.
“We have a lot of debt rolling off by 2021… meaning we’re in a good position where we can do the capital budgets,” Buchanan said.