Categorized | Carousel, News

Perth Amboy Budget Hearings: Department Heads Present Needs for Upcoming Year

Dept. of Public Works Frank Dann at the Hearings. *Photos by Jennifer Lilonsky

By Jennifer Lilonsky—

PERTH AMBOY — City department representatives presented their 2013 budget proposals to Chief Financial Officer Jill Goldy and Chief Operating Officer Gregory Fehrenbach.

The representatives summarized and explained the monetary needs of their departments for the upcoming year, detailing each line item of their budget as directed by Goldy and Fehrenbach who then provided feedback and recommendations.

Superstorm Sandy impacted many of the budget proposals, some departments more than others, creating an obstacle for planning next year’s expenditures.

“The challenge we’re all going to have ahead of ourselves going into next year is going to be dealing with the costs of this storm and those costs will be reflected both in the actual and out-of-pocket expenses the city has to make for which it will not receive a reimbursement,” Fehrenbach said.

Fehrenbach also said that tax appeals and the new values that will be set based on the loss evaluation that took place along the waterfront would reduce the city’s main source of revenue—property tax.

Human Services Director Kenneth Ortiz explained how the storm affected his department when presenting his budget, noting how it was a large factor in his proposal for next year.

“We’re going to be more proactive this year and have more funding in place in case of any of these occurrences should happen again,” Ortiz said. “We have to be more prepared.”

The costs associated with relocating and housing residents are the most pressing issue for the Human Services department, according to Ortiz, who said that there is no money left in their budget for this year to help families who need housing because of the storm.

And it’s not just the effects of Sandy that are placing stress on the public assistance and housing budget. Ortiz said that families had to be relocated due to the fires that happened throughout the year as well as houses that were condemned by the Code Enforcement department because of violations.

Ortiz said that his department has relied on faith-based and nonprofit organizations to generate funding because the budget they have now fails to accommodate emergency situations that involve relocations.

The 2013 budget proposes a $2,500 increase from last year’s appropriation into the public assistance and housing line item of the budget, a value that both Fehrenbach and Goldy said is not enough to cover the department’s needs.

But Ortiz expressed his concern saying that no realistic budget has the capacity to account for the high costs of relocating families.

“Unless you’re willing to commit $10,000 or $20,000 a week we are never really prepared for this,” Ortiz said. “That’s why we are going to have to reach out to some other organizations so we can have something in place so we can draw some funds from somewhere else.”

The Fire Department’s expenses were also affected by the storm.

The department is over budget in the personnel appropriation but is hoping to be reimbursed, according to Fire Chief David Volk.

“We’ve made a concerted effort over the course of the last three years to really reduce the accumulated leave time and get that down to where it’s really contractually supposed to be,” Volk said. “If it wasn’t for the storm, we’re right on line with what we had requested for this year which was $260,000.”

 

This is the third year in a row that the fire department is requesting a reduction in overtime, Volk said.

Other city departments had to reevaluate priorities for the upcoming year because of the storm.

The Finance department planned on purchasing a new software system for their payroll system, according to Goldy, but will probably have to omit the item from the budget.

“Realistically, with all the things that have taken place in the last few weeks have put us a little bit behind on the normal day-to-day operations of the city,” Goldy said. “It’s not likely we are going to be able to achieve this at this point.”

Fehrenbach said that the total financial implications from the storm are still unknown.

“It’s not clear what all of the impacts are going to be from the storm. And we may not really know that well into the middle or toward the end of next year,” Fehrenbach said.

Another influence in some of the department’s budgets was allowing residents to make online payments for various services.

The Human Services department’s recreation division is one area of the city that believes an online payment system would be cost-efficient and create more convenience for residents.

“Being that our department is so diverse and provides so many different programs and our staff is stretched as much as it is, we have researched a way to have online registration and that would allow our consumers not to have to come into the office and register for programs,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz also said that the online payment system would allow his department to keep normal working hours and not have to expand them for registration purposes.

But Goldy was concerned with the fact that other agencies within the city do not have the ability to make online payments, except in the Municipal Court.

“I want to make it clear that I’m all for automation however if we’re going do this for recreation we should do it for everything else and we have not approached that subject as of yet,” Goldy said.

Ortiz believes that an online payment system would not only create efficiency within his department, but would also be more convenient for residents who may not be able to get to the office in time before they close because of their work schedules.

“I did include it in my budget because I think it would provide us an expansion of service without expanding the staff,” Ortiz said.

Fehrenbach suggested that Ortiz conduct more research on how online payments work in other municipalities and to project any savings that would result from it.

Tax Collector Nancy Martin also told Goldy and Fehrenbach that she wants to start offering online payment capability to taxpayers.

“I think it has a lot to do with young versus old. A lot of young people just pay all their bills online,” Martin said. “I just think it’s just moving with the times.”

Martin said that an online interface would make it easier to track payments for residents who own more than one property, avoiding situations where the tax collector’s office does not know which blocks and lots to apply a taxpayer’s payment to. It would also make it easier for residents to view their balance and the status of their account.

Goldy agreed with Martin but still reinforced the idea that if they are going to permit one department to accept online payments, they need to implement it for all departments. She also said that it is an issue that needs to be addressed citywide.

The program would cost $1,200 annually and customers would also pay a service fee between $1 and $2 to the company that runs the system, according to Martin.

The tax collector’s office plans on installing a drop box for payments near or attached to the building but is still working out the details of its installation.

Martin also incorporated a $50,000 request for renovations to the tax collection office that would increase security.

The renovations would include installing bulletproof windows, similar to the atmosphere of a bank where cashiers can collect money and communicate with customers through a glass barrier.

Fehrenbach asked Martin to conduct more research on the actual costs of the renovation from an expert being that she estimated the cost of it herself.

Vehicle maintenance was another area of some of the budget proposals that caused some discussion.

Code Enforcement Director Ed Scala said that vehicle maintenance was a concern directly influencing his department’s budget.

“The vehicles are getting older and it’s much more difficult to calculate or estimate what repairs we’re going to need in the upcoming year but we seem to need more servicing,” Scala said.

Scala said that the cars are between nine and 12 years old and money needs to be put aside to maintain them.

Scala also requested an $18,500 increase from last year’s appropriation to purchase a new car to add to their nine-car fleet.

The fire inspectors are using the vehicles more often because the volume of fire inspections have increased compared to last year—increasing the need for maintenance, Fire Official Frank Marrero said.

Goldy said that she understood the department’s needs in regard to vehicle maintenance but also suggested that the city think about moving to a fleet management system where all cars from the city’s departments will be monitored and stored in a central location.

“In order to maximize and to have some economy of scale and in addition to make sure that somebody monitors a maintenance schedule for the vehicles, we might be able to get more usage out of them ultimately if they’re maintained better,” Goldy said.

But Goldy was not in complete agreement with the director’s request to purchase a new vehicle.

“I understand logistically you have issues but I just wanted to bring it up again because I think that instead of buying an $18,000 vehicle you can make due with what you have,” Goldy said. “You just have to use it more efficiently.”

The Police Department is also asking for an increase in their vehicle maintenance budget. The budget request is $15,000 more than last year’s appropriation, Fehrenbach said.

The overall budget is $181,000 over last year’s authorization, an increase that Ruiz attributes mostly to replacing vehicles that are cycled through a five-year rotation.

“What we’re looking to do is maintain the four patrol vehicles that we normally cycle through and there’s an additional four unmarked vehicles which wouldn’t be to the extent of the patrol.” Ruiz said.

The department is attempting to streamline the types of vehicles they purchase, something that Ruiz said will save money because they will be able to use the same parts for their entire fleet and buy a lower amount of parts in general. Otherwise, the department is forced to order a multitude of different parts for all the different kinds of cars they have.

The increase in the total budget request is also related to the rising cost of ammunition, training 20 new officers, sending them to the Police Academy and providing them with uniforms and equipment.

Contrary to other divisions in the city, the Fire Department is requesting a decrease in their vehicle maintenance budget.

Fire Chief David Volk said that the decrease is directly related to the acquisition of a new engine that they expect to be delivered late January.

“It’s straightforward to maintain where we’ve been over the last two or three years. There’s no new expenditures identified in there,” Volk said. “I think that our requests over the past two years have been fairly dead-on with what we spent.”

Volk also said that they cut down on labor costs associated with vehicle maintenance because some of the firefighters work on repairs for the fleet instead of sending them out to a mechanic.

Public Works director Frank Dann said that his department’s budget would not have to change that much from last year’s appropriations.

“We started with our 2012 budget and we looked at each individual division and our remaining balances our rate of expenditures and we came to the conclusion that except for the additional money we will need for contract janitorial services we are going to be fine with the amount of money we had in 2012,” Dann said.

But Fehrenbach thinks that the department may be overfunded.

“I get the distinct feeling from things that I’ve heard from various people in the department that unlike other departments in the organizations, the level of flexibility that exists in this budget far exceeds what exists in almost any other budget in the city,” Fehrenbach said.

Fehrenbach said that there is too much money in their budget that can be used on expenditures at a whim and are not planned for ahead of time.

Dann said that they have a lot of money leftover from the previous year because they did not have time to finish the traffic light replacement project, something he hopes to complete this year now that most of the legwork has been completed.

Fehrenbach urged Dann to go over the budget again in more detail and make sure that they are requesting the lowest appropriation possible.

Comments are closed.

Browse Current Issue - Click Here

Perth Amboy Calendar

WED. Dec. 13
• City Council, Regular, 7 p.m.
City Hall, High St.

Stay informed! Attend public meetings. All are welcome!

South Amboy Calendar

WED. Dec. 20
• City Council, Regular,
7 p.m.
City Hall, N. Broadway

Stay informed! Attend public meetings. All are welcome!