Westfield Loses $941K in Municipal Aid from State
Christie cuts funds for aid to local government.
Westfield's town government is slated for a $941,470 cut in state aid, under figures announced by the state Thursday afternoon.
The state Department of Community Affairs is slated to award Westfield a total of $3,073,326 in municipal aid for the coming fiscal year. This will include $529,527 in consolidated municipal property tax relief and $2,543,799 in energy tax receipts. This marks a roughly 25-percent decrease from last year's $4,014,796 state aid payment to Westfield.
The announcement comes as part of Gov. Chris Christie's state budget announcement, which has proposed steep cuts to aid programs across the board. Earlier this week, the Board of Education received news that the schools would receive a $4.22 million state aid cut. The BOE is currently scrambling to cut the amount from the budget in time to meet Tuesday's deadline to present a budget proposal to the county schools superintendent, with a final adoption on March 30.
Town officials have been promoting that the town government is ready for any cuts in state aid from Trenton. Councilman Mark Ciarrocca, the chairman of the finance committee, said the town has been making cuts in the budget in previous years and would be able to weather cuts in the current state aid totals. Ciarrocca has stressed though that the town will likely be making personnel and service cuts as the budget unfolds. The town has also implemented a hiring freeze across all departments in hopes of making cuts.
"For us it will not be easy," Ciarrocca said.
Town officials have said for several weeks that they have been anticipating a drop in state aid and factored it into the discussions on the budget. During Tuesday night's Town Council meeting, members expressed strong support for Christie's budget with Councilwoman Vicki Kimmins describing the budget as "awesome".
The Town Council has already voted to eliminate the custodial services department at the Municipal Building, moving the three full time slots to one and a half positions. The full time custodial position is now funded through the Department of Public Works. In addition the Town Council has voted to merge the Department of Human Services with the county, which will save the department director's $91,000 salary and benefits.
Mayor Andy Skibitsky said earlier this week the town is in the process of negotiating with the police and fire unions in order to settle contract negotiations and hopes to have the contracts finalized in the coming weeks. He said these contracts will likely contain measures to help implement savings for the town.
Ciarrocca said in an interview earlier this week that he welcomed several of Christie's proposals for local governments, including pension and benefits reports. He also said that while Christie's proposed constitutional amendment limiting municipalities and school districts to two and a half percent annual property tax hikes will be challenging he welcomes the change because it will apply to other governments. He continued to stress that Westfield has been working to control costs in the past several years.
"In Westfied, we want to try to support what the governor is doing," he said. "We're prepared to make the difficult decisions locally and support what the governor's efforts are."