Town Council: Christie Budget Cuts Necessary, Westfield Prepared
Members agree that his plan sounds good, but it will mean a lot of hard work for the next couple of years.
The discussion came as across town, Board of Education members grappled with how to potentially slash $4.25 million from their budget due to the massive state education aid cuts Christie has proposed. Christie's budget also proposes cutting municipal aid, but Westfield officials note that the town government has been making cuts for several years and is prepared for the storm.
Exact state aid figures for the town government are not available. Town Administrator Jim Gildea said he expects to receive word from the state Department of Community Affairs by the end of the week. He said the town is likely to see cuts in the basic state aid offered to municipalities. The school system is also waiting for state aid figures to be released by the state Department of Education but is bracing for Christie's warning of a loss of up to five percent of the total budget
Councilwoman Vicki Kimmins offered strong support for the governor's proposed budget. Summing up her thoughts by saying "awesome", she said New Jersey's fiscal condition warrants Christie's current budget approach.
"He's gonna be tough, we need that," Kimmins said.
Mayor Andy Skibitsky pointed to several statistics in the transcript of the speech to illustrate his points. He said that Christie has an $11 billion gap to close in the next year. Other members commented on the fact that this task is nearly impossible. The governor has said that on the whole jobs have gone down in the private sector, but government jobs have gone up.
"While New Jersey's private sector lost 121,000 jobs just in 2009, New Jersey's local governments added 11,300 new municipal and school employees," Christie said in his budget speech.
Skibitsky and Town Clerk Claire Gray, pointed out that this was not the case in Westfield. In the past several years, Westfield has reduced or eliminated 27 local government jobs. Last week, the Town Council eliminated the town Department of Human Services, including the department director's post. The Council has also eliminated the custodial services department in the Municipal Building and implemented a hiring freeze across all town departments. Skibitsky said Westfield should not be affected too badly by the cuts that are proposed by Christie
The overall consensus on the remarks was that this year and the next will be very challenging.
"The finance committee has a lot of work ahead of them," Skibitsky said.