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Council Budget Discussion Gets Testy

If Moorestown Township Council doesn't introduce a budget by the end of next week, council members will face fines from the state.

After receiving a letter of reprimand from the state threatening fines if a budget isn’t introduced by next week, township council still couldn’t come to a consensus Monday night.

Township manager Scott Carew said the state has threatened to fine each individual council member $25 a day if the budget isn’t introduced by next Friday, June 22.

A plan presented by financial officer Tom Merchel would funnel $365,000 of revenue from the sale of liquor licenses into the general fund and impose a slight tax increase—$53 more for a home assessed at the township average ($529,800)—to balance the budget.

But when it came time to approve the budget for introduction Monday, council split 3-2, with Mayor John Button, Deputy Mayor Greg Gallo and Councilman Mike Testa voting “no.”

Button said he had a “fundamental problem raising taxes” considering the township’s bright financial future, with the drop in debt service in 2014 and the addition of commercial ratables (, expansion of the mall).

Gallo and Testa pushed for more cuts, with Testa calling the use of liquor license revenue “a joke,” since the township hasn’t received the money yet.

“That’s a gimmick … It’s an unsustainable revenue source,” Testa said. “We can do better.”

Carew and Merchel pushed back on Testa’s objections to using the liquor license revenue. Merchel has advocated spreading the potential revenue——over several years to help balance the budget and maintain services (, ) for the majority of township residents.

“Those are things that every single resident in town uses,” said Carew. “It is going to help everybody for a decade, and that’s not something to scoff at.”

But the three councilmen were obstinate in their insistence of a zero tax increase plan. Button said he wanted the “zero options.”

When asked by Carew and Merchel for specific direction, Gallo and Testa mentioned outsourcing and shared services, but were still somewhat vague on how they expected the administrators to bridge the gap if not with revenues.

“Some of it we have to be careful with because it has to do with personnel,” Gallo explained.

Councilman Chris Chiacchio—who along with Councilwoman Stacey Jordan voted “yes” on introduction—said he was just as unhappy with a tax increase as the other councilmen, but didn’t hear any better ideas being presented.

“I don’t hear one viable option or solution,” Chiacchio said. “Nothing’s going to change.”

Jordan made no attempt to hide her frustration with her fellow council members’ refusal to introduce the budget and seeming lack of faith in the township professionals.

“I feel like this is Groundhog Day. We keep telling (Merchel and Carew) the same thing,” she said. “Tom (Merchel) tells us this is a responsible budget … I’m relying on our professionals who I trust.”

The budget discussion became somewhat testy as it dragged on, with councilmen Testa and Chiacchio engaging in a snappy exchange when Testa boiled Chiacchio’s and Jordan’s stance down to a sound bite: “I don’t want to raise taxes. You want to raise taxes.”

“I’m sorry you have to make this a political stump speech,” Chiacchio fired back.

“,” Testa replied.

Gallo admitted though it may seem repetitive— and —to send the administrators back to the drawing board once again, it’s how they’ve succeeded in getting lean budgets in past years. He said former township manager Chris Schultz discovered a $40,000 cut during 11th hour budget discussions last year.

“I’m not satisfied we’ve gone as far as we can … To keep pressing is appropriate,” said Gallo. “We don’t want to leave anything behind.”

The budget adoption deadline for municipalities was April 20. Moorestown adopted its 2011 budget on June 27 last year, according to the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA). The DCA did not, however, penalize the township for its late adoption last year. 

Council tentatively scheduled a special meeting for 8 a.m. next Wednesday, at the , to take up introduction of the budget once again.

Concerned for Moorestown June 13, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Voice thank you for letting me know that. I wasn't aware Mr. Constantine was no longer a paid fireman for Moorestown. I think though what I was trying to point out was that there are some paid firemen in town and not for small money. I'm not saying I agree or disagree with Tax Playa just pointing it out that there are salaries for jobs there that could be looked at. Those jobs maybe redundant and then again they maybe be just getting the job done with the paid staff they have. I think Playa was saying it should be looked into.
Voice of Reason June 13, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Playa, Agreed. We could/should have only one district. But it seems to me that overall we get a pretty good deal with our fire services being volunteer compared to a Mt. Laurel who pays through the teeth.
Voice of Reason June 13, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Concerned, we agree that all budgets should be available for review by the public. (we are the ones who pay the bill). All of this information is available online in the case of the two fire districts. Haven't looked into the municipal budget yet, but unless the fire districts are committing a criminal act by not reporting paid firemen/women, there are currently zero paid firefighters in District 1 or District 2. Though I will point out that it looks like the high ranking people in both districts recieve stipends (It looks like the highest of these is the chief in district 2 who recieves a 12k stipend annually). I think that the general point I am trying to make is that while we don't need 2 fire districts in a town this size, we might be picking on a department that has generally done a pretty good job.
Third Base Coach June 13, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Coach Ed, to help clear the air, on that "selection show" issue, for what I know, you are right pm "was told he couldn't run". Furthermore two people Gw and pm from the mrc couldn't vote on the candidates. If I understand your "loud" comment correctly, both gw and pm did not "fire mayor button or throw him under any bus", they didn't have a vote on the matter because they weren't part of the mrmc. You should have conformed with them before assuming.
G. Williams June 14, 2012 at 02:26 PM
TB, Thanks for that clarification. I am not aware if PM was told he could not run. He told me personally that he wouldn't run due to personal reasons which I will not divulge. I am always amazed at how people not in the know, manage to know so much.

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