Berlin Council discusses traffic, tax increase

After concerns from the community due to the passed tax increase last month, councilman Mike Buchanan hopes to help residents understand the budget

Berlin Borough Council discussed recycling, taxes, roads and more during its monthly meeting Thursday, May 16, while also swearing in two new police officers.

Mayor Jim Bilella swore in Ashton Pohlig and Mark Peiffer as new hires with the department. Both were appointed as patrolmen with the department. Council also amended an ordinance increasing the number of lieutenants allowed in the borough from one to not to exceed two.

During council reports, Councilman Len Badolato said council has sent a proposal to the state after a meeting with the Department of Transportation that seeks to implement traffic-calming ideas along the White Horse Pike.

In his first council report since being sworn in at a workshop meeting Tuesday, May 7, Councilman Andrew Simone announced the ongoing work within his department of public works, streets and roads.

“The Borough of Berlin was awarded $300,000 in grant funds to execute the 2019 roads improvement program throughout Berlin,” said Simone. “We have three areas to be improved throughout the borough. I’ve talked to the engineer and they’re preparing the bid documents now so we can perform and execute the design for that.”

As The Sun previously reported, roads scheduled for repaving and additional work this summer, such as being brought up to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, include Birch Avenue, Hardie Avenue, Summer Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, Linden Avenue, Fieldstone Lane, Split Rail Court, Colonial Park Road, Constitution Boulevard, Liberty Court, Surrey Court, West Taunton Avenue and two sections along Moss Avenue, for a total of 14 scheduled projects.

Since having a road evaluation completed earlier this year, the borough is at the start of an anticipated five-year plan for the borough’s road program. The current list of streets to be addressed this summer includes all roads from year one of the proposed plan by Environmental Resolutions Inc., while also getting a small jump ahead on year-two streets as well.

Council is continuing to work with the state in addressing the intersection at Franklin Avenue and the White Horse Pike. After a meeting with the state Department of Transportation last month, council is moving forward with “option three” from the state, which is reportedly in favor of creating a left-hand turn lane in both directions. Council was expected to send the state a copy of its resolution voting in favor of that option being implemented within the next few days.

“In doing that, we’re also going to look into improving the side streets that come into that intersection,” said Simone. “To avoid that intersection, some traffic veers down the side streets and interrupts the neighbors of that intersection.”

Councilman Mike Buchanan, chairman of finance, addressed resident concerns regarding taxes after the council passed its proposed budget April 11 increasing taxes.

“I want everyone to always feel comfortable that they can always come to me as I work with our CMFO [Debbie] DiMattia and also council,” said Buchanan.

“We raised taxes this year $4.44 per month on the average household,” said Buchanan. “That’s under $5 a month. There’s some opinions that we don’t have to increase our taxes … maybe we can take some money from our surplus. But ultimately, the idea that we can avoid increasing taxes in New Jersey just isn’t realistic.”

Borough residents with the average assessed home value of $233,600 can expect an increase in taxes of $53 from Berlin Borough; such an increase does not include the tax increase from Eastern Regional, Berlin Community School or other sources.

Buchanan said one of the numerous reasons that taxes increased slightly was an increase in trash tonnage fees of an anticipated $63,000 for the year.

“Recycling doesn’t turn out the payouts that it used to in the years prior,” Buchanan said. “We’re seeing this in our DPW, they’re informing us that we’re not getting the same benefits from our recycling.”

Solicitor Howard Long addressed Buchanan’s comments about the increase in recycling costs afterward.

“There’s a crisis going on in New Jersey that no one is talking about and it’s recycling,” said Long. “A town the size of Berlin used to receive a recycling rebate every year, and we encourage recycling, and there’s been a lot of marketing to encourage people to recycle … we used to get money on the resale of those recyclables, significant sums of money – roughly $20, $30, $40,000 a year.

“The bottom has dropped out of that market,” Long added. “Where they used to take those recyclables, which is China, we are in a trade war, and they will not take any recyclables. They took nearly 100 percent of the recyclables that the United States produced, and that stopped overnight.”

Long says he has other clients he represents that have gone from earning roughly $70,000 per year to paying roughly $250,000 per year, and the same thing is happening to many other municipalities across the state.

“The same thing is happening here. There’s no market for any of recyclables,” said Long.

In other news:

  • The Berlin Fire Company received 74 calls for the month, bringing the total to 294 calls on the year.
  • The Berlin Fire Company generator is “up and running,” according to council President Jim Pearce after months of working on the project.
  • The borough received a $3,302.47 grant for volunteer firefighters from the state Department of Transportation.
  • The Berlin Police Department received 1,684 calls during April, with the total calls on the year up by 445 from the previous year. There were 68 total adult arrests.
  • Det. John Feger was honored as the Officer of the Month for April, a new initiative started by Chief Millard Wilkinson to recognize a new officer each month for their work within the department.