Township council approves budget for 2021-2022

Request for review of fiscal plan sparks informed dialogue

Gloucester Township Council approved its budget for 2021-2022 on second reading at a May 10 session.

As previously reported in The Sun, there will be no increase in the tax rate this year.

The total anticipated revenue for 2021-2022 and the total amount raised by the tax levy have gone up around $1 million from last year, for a total of $69,074,204.92.

Various topics came up during the meeting’s public comment portion. Regarding a question on whether the land sale referenced at the last council session would be taken into account in this year’s budget, Business Administrator Tom Cardis said it would not, because a deal hasn’t been finalized yet.

The concern raised by township resident Pete Heinbaugh that council was over budgeting because of a $3 million surplus from last year was addressed by Cardis. He explained that the money was from unused funds for capital projects, programs that didn’t happen and salaries that didn’t need to be distributed because of employees who went on FMLA (Family and Medical Leave) and didn’t receive their full pay. Cardis said the last was an anomaly that occurred because of COVID.

Chief Financial Officer Christie Ehret clarified that the surplus had to be categorized as revenue in order to offset the debt service of around $6 million. Some surplus is always necessary in order to pay bills that come in after Dec. 31 but must be paid with the previous year’s budgeted funds.

In meetings that led up to the first reading and eventual adoption of the budget, resident Paul Krug had asked if a subcommittee would be formed to review the budget line by line and look for cost savings. No panel was formed, but council members Dan Hutchinson, Carolyn Grace and Michelle Winters agreed to review the fiscal plan.

Over the next few weeks, the trio met with each other, Cardis and Ehret and asked questions that sparked an informed dialogue during the May 10 meeting’s public comment as Krug checked in to see what progress was made.

“This truly is a responsible budget,” Hutchinson remarked.

In response to Heinbaugh’s question on why certain line items couldn’t be used as surplus in this year’s budget, Hutchinson responded that doing so would create inconsistencies between years. He also responded to resident Ray Polidoro’s earlier comment that the zero tax increase coincides with election years.

“We’re not manipulating numbers to suit an election year; I won’t have that,” Hutchinson maintained. “That revenue item that was referenced is going to be in next year’s budget as surplus. Maybe you want every single dime allocated to this year, but that’s going to produce defective results.”

Krug thanked council for reviewing the budget.

“I think this dialogue we just had is extremely productive,” he added. “I know there’s a little bit of friction between that side and this side. I think dialogue like this helps to break that down.

“I do listen, and a lot of times a clear explanation helps me understand more complicated scenarios like this. So if we can have dialogue, even if on this side, we do have ‘got you’ questions sometimes, an explanation goes a lot further in helping all of us understand how things work from that side.”

In other news:

The next council meeting will be held on Monday, May 24, in person at the municipal building and will be livestreamed.