Berlin Borough passes budget

After passing the budget, the Berlin Borough Council addressed multiple concerns during public comment on varying issues

Berlin Borough passed its 2019-2020 budget at its council meeting Thursday, April 11 at Borough Hall. The preliminary budget was unanimously passed at council’s March meeting.

According to Chief Financial Officer Debbie DiMattia, borough residents with the average assessed house value of $233,600 can expect a $53 increase in taxes. No residents spoke during the public hearing portion of last week’s meeting with regard to the budget.

However, Mayor Jim Bilella did voice his belief that he would have liked to have seen a smaller tax increase for borough residents.

“In looking at things, I think there’s an opportunity missed here in providing a lower tax increase,” Bilella said. “We had significant savings in our health-care line for our retirees … we also had increased revenue, increased surplus. We’re only using 50 percent of our surplus this year; last year we used 70 percent.”

“We could have bettered our surplus savings, not use as much of our surplus going forward, and still provided the residents some tax relief,” Bilella added.

In other news:

An ordinance was passed on first reading “to prohibit parking within five feet on either side of driveways on residential streets” in the borough, upon the recommendation of the borough engineer.

Three members of the Berlin Fire Company were promoted to various borough positions through resolutions at the meeting. Rushi Pandya was appointed to the position of emergency management coordinator, Craig Fallstick was appointed to deputy emergency management coordinator and Fred Tuttle was appointed to deputy emergency coordinator.

During public comment, multiple residents addressed council regarding various concerns.

Mike Giffin and Dorthy Francesoni requested that council reexamine an ordinance after they received a violation letter from the borough regarding trash cans being in the front of their housing units.

Giffin said the removal of trash cans from the front of housing units is not a problem for those living on the end of such units, however those in the middle are subject to either cross others’ property to bring their cans behind their home each and every week or store it in their garage, which is not an ideal situation for trash during the summer heat.

Council asked questions regarding the current situation of how trash cans are handled in the two residents’ particular development, and agreed to engage in further discussion regarding the ordinance in the near future.

David Buscemi, a Stockton University student who is not a Berlin Borough resident, addressed council for a class project regarding the council’s thoughts on medical cannabis and if discussion has been had with regard to its introduction in the borough.

“We had some discussion when medical marijuana first came out,” solicitor Howard Long said. “There’s some towns I represent that are actually in favor of it and there’s some that are against it.”

Long says municipalities around New Jersey have, in the past, allowed residents to vote on the decision to decide their respective town’s future regarding medical marijuana. The New Jersey Police Chief’s Association currently is against the legalization of recreational marijuana, according to Long, due to the inability to accurately test for when recreational marijuana has been used by residents.

Buscemi, who says he does not support the passage of recreational marijuana, urged council that, when the time comes to discuss the potential of medical marijuana in the borough, council investigate the benefits for itself.

“I just want to ask the council to not be too rash on medical dispensaries and things of that nature,” Buscemi said. “Sixty percent of [state residents] live a 30-minute drive away from the closest alternative treatment center. For disabled patients and those that suffer with chronic pain, this is a huge problem for them.”

Lastly, Bill Bansch addressed council regarding comments made about him at the February council meeting that led to Bansch being removed from his position with the borough as code enforcement and property maintenance officer.

Berlin Borough business owner Carl Mascarenhas stated concerns about the way Bansch treated Mascarenhas’ business, as well as others around the borough, at the February meeting. In a phone interview with The Sun the morning following the February council meeting, Bansch declined to comment on any of Mascarenhas’ remarks.

At last week’s meeting, Bansch defended the way he treated and evaluated businesses and others while holding his position.

“I would like the record to reflect that I had faithfully served the Borough of Berlin as property maintenance officer and then later as code enforcement officer for three and a half years,” said Bansch. “When I was initially interviewed by former Mayor John Armano and Administrator Charlene Santoro, I made it perfectly clear that I would uphold all ordinances fairly with every resident regardless of race, color, creed or political affiliation, and I never wavered from that commitment, which is how I run my everyday life.”

Bansch says he had more than 300 residents reach out to him via multiple ways to thank him for his time with the borough and “for a job well done.” During his time addressing council, Bansch also voiced his displeasure with his Facebook posts being presented to council, stating that it is his First Amendment right to post what he has in the past on his page.