Teaneck Council’s Budget: Inconvenient truths if only one can find them

At Tuesday’s Teaneck Council meeting the main event was supposed to be “Introduction of 2019 Municipal Budget” – the council’s most consequential annual document each year. Presumably there was to be a robust discussion of the topic. Alas, that was not to be. During the periods when the audience can  speak on different topics, their concerns included excessive development, the overly expensive “potty-plex” to be constructed, encroaching incursions of our local hospital into a surrounding residential community, and illegal drugs in a neighborhood. A happy moment was the proclamation of “Friends of The Library Month” – a wonderful resource in our community. (See photo above.) 

Budgets can be magnificent, mind-numbing, massive, mystifying, misleading, and even malodorous. The stated goal of the Teaneck Council, one which is generally appealing to tax-paying residents, has been for several years to maintain a zero increase of the municipal tax rate. This can be achieved many ways, including by increasing revenue and/or cutting department expenses, putting off maintenance and needed items or staff, (see below the ceiling of our Council Chambers), reducing or not even inserting reserves for likely near-term expenses, and issuing bonds which reduce the immediate expense but carry significant costs into the future. Dr. Chuck Powers indicated that whereas in the county’s budget there were details down to $500, there was no such detail in the council’s budget. Alan Sohn called the most cynical cut, on ‘Terminal Leave,’ which was reduced to zero, but “charged to “residents’ credit card so as to reduce expenses.” In effect, budgets can easily be filled with inconvenient truths (not Al Gore’s) if only one can find them.

Unfortunately, the proposed budget received little public comment because it did not appear on the town’s website until the day before the meeting so most residents did not know of its existence and those who did had little time to pour over the data. The budget was buried in the Agenda Packet on pages 52-121 indicating it “shall constitute the approved Municipal Budget for the year 2019.” The event was a charade, a fait accompli. Its introduction was unanimously approved by the Council. And so it goes.

Before the final vote, council members did raise some concerns. Councilman Pruitt referred to the “gymnastics of borrowing into the future,” and concern over whether our strong credit rating could be endangered. Councilman Schwartz said that “several millions” received over recent years from developers for fees and taxes allows the council to maintain the “zero increase,” but he did not mention the added costs of services imposed for such new projects. Councilman Dunleavey said the budget’s “assets to debt ratio” was excellent and council was being prudent, but had to put in place a debt management program.

There is another public bite at the apple on May 7 when there will be a final vote on the matter. With so much complexity in the budget we are reduced to saying that we don’t know what we don’t know. The budget can seem a wonder, but one easily shattered by an unexpected blast of reality.  

OTHER ISSUES

“Pottyt-Plex”: The overly expensive ($1.8 million or more) Field House which James Veach derided as something “nobody wants,” continues to come before the council. Alan Sohn said that while Trump has an obsession over his Wall the council has an obsession over the Field House. Debbie Elyahue proposed a far simpler and much less expensive version with toilets, outside food vendors and a space for team members in case of rain. Councilman Schwartz loudly and vigorously defended the plan claiming it had overwhelming support of the residents which was loudly booed by the audience. Councilman Dunleavy was also strongly supportive. The council voted to move forward.

Seniors’ Center: Members on several occasions had urged for the addition of one full-time professional staff member such as a person with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Social Work. Instead the budget provides for two-part-time workers with unknown credentials. Meanwhile the elevator, necessary for many seniors, has been under repair for 3 weeks.

Holy Name Hospital: Five residents reiterated their concern that the hospital was planning to demolish houses on its property so as to build an additional commercial five parking lots shattering the Master Plan’s buffer zone and encroaching on the residential nature of the surrounding area. One individual suspected there might be some connection between the hospital possibly offering to pay monies to the town in lieu of taxes in order to receive zoning relief. Councilman Schwartz said there were no current discussions and nothing is about to move forward on the matter, but he did not refute the claims regarding the potential added parking lots and zoning relief.  There were also references to other encroachments.

Development Impact: Steve Savitz, a resident leader in Teaneck’s North East area, returned to a demand of many residents and one urged by Council Member Dr. Henry Pruitt. With so much development underway and more planned for the future, residents feel it is essential that there be an integrated, independent, and comprehensive review of the many impacts such over-development could produce. Howard Rose asked Council members (with no immediate reply) whether they had read the Master Plan. Alan Sohn derided our township’s “zoning by variance” and our “Master Plan being systematically ignored.” Councilman Katz said council was requesting a firm to provide a “scope of services and costs” for a study, but he provided no more details. He and another member said they had read the Master Plan.

Drug selling: Attorney Jeff Wofford in his second appearance before the council reiterated concerns with drug selling in his neighborhood and requested increased police presence. He indicated he witnessed a drug transaction in from of his residence and had reported it to the police. He and others discussed the matter with Interim Township Manager Dean B. Kazinci at the end of the meeting.

Mayor Hameeduddin was absent.

A small example of maintenance delayed: the damaged ceiling in Council Chambers.

For more information go to Meeting Agenda Outline, Packet, and video  

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