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  • Writer's pictureChristine McGrath

Budget Workshops 2024

In the month of February, the Verona Town Council hosted our annual Budget Workshops, were we review every line item detail from every department.


The good news is that the projected change in the tax rate for 2024 is under 2%. The Municipal Levy is projected to be $18.8 million (up from $18.5 million), with total operating expenses decreasing from $26.4 million (down from $27 million).


The major increases to operating expenses are changes to insurance costs - both general and employee medical, changes to police pension payments, legal down payments required for projects, and an increase to the capital improvement fund.


Our revenue came in higher than anticipated in several areas, the biggest being Uniform Construction Code fees, recreation fees, and interest on deposits. Total anticipated revenue for 2024 is expected to be $5.2 million.


I encourage all residents to review the 2024 Budget Summary Presentation, which can be found here.


Here are the highlights of the department by department conversations. Please note that not all capital needs will be funded in 2024. Some will be deferred to future years. The Administration will propose a capital plan for 2024 at a future meeting.


Pool utility: The Administration is getting a lot more precise on how the costs associated with the pool are paid for to insure they are all running through the pool utility. This includes materials for the pool (chemicals, staff clothing) and staff (landscaping). The one area where this does not apply is the water that is used for the pool. In 2024 the Administration will be measuring water used for the pool and make a recommendation on how we proceed with budgeting for that cost in the future.


The budget for the pool is going up $140K to a total budget of $950K. The cost breakdown is as follows: $40K in increased debt service (from the splash pad project), $40K in increased salaries (due to increases in minimum wage), $30K in increased chemicals costs (inflation), and $30K misc increases (due to bringing over more costs that were paid out of the general fund to the pool utility).


As a result of these costs, the Council proposed rate increases at our meeting on February 26th.


Future capital needs for the pool include relining the main pool ($240K) and purchasing new tables.


Buildings and Grounds: B&G hired a full time maintence person to help clean our buildings instead of using an outside vendor. We discussed several capital needs, including new roofs for the Community Center and town garage, repairs that are need for town hall, and significant structural issues with the tower building.


We had an extensive conversation regarding electricity and natural gas usage. Councilwoman Holland has been pushing for energy efficiency projects, including looking at net metering solar, as a way of reducing the $460K that we spend every year on electric and gas. She also alerted us to the fact that rates will increase this year and that needs to be factored into the budget.


Street and Highway: An additional staff person will be hired to keep up with the demands. Recycling costs are increasing, especially in the area of mixed recycling/newspaper. Yes, we have to pay to remove our recycling. It is still cheaper to the Township to recycle what we can than if we just included everything in regular trash. Cardboard recycling is driving up most of our cost.


Capital request include shade tree replacement, stormwater system maintence, new trucks for the department, and improvements to the greenhouses on Ozone to convert them to truck storage.


Water and Sewer: The Council just had a complete analysis done of our water and sewer utility financials. The day to day operating costs are staying flat. We have had changes in staff at the plant we are currently hiring some outside help to fill the gaps. For both water and sewer we need to invest in several capital projects, which will drive up the costs of these utilities. More details on the sewer utility capital needs will be covered at our meeting on March 11th.


Police: The police had some staffing challenges last year due to illness which resulted in overtime coming in slightly over expected. The department is planning on adding staff to get to 33/34 total members (now at 31/32). We have 22 crossing guards and 2 subs. Police costs will be flat.


The capital needs for the department will be new body worn cameras, new IT workstations, automated license plate readers, new weapons, and new radios.


Clerk & Elections: Staffing is increasing in the clerk's budget due to the overwhelming demand for services. Some cost were also moved into this budget to allow for better tracking. The surprise of the night was that the costs of the last local election topped $80K. A few years ago, May elections only cost $25K. As a reminder, if the Council elections were in November, there would be no cost to the Township.


Fire: Capital requests from the fire department include new hoses, extraction tools, and software. We are also close to needing another fire truck.


Fire Prevention: Capital requests include personal protective gear, a new vehicle, and mobile radios.


Construction & Zoning: This department continues to be very, very busy. Last year they conducted over 3,000 inspections. 168 residents added solar and 83 added electric vehicle charging stations. The big capital request is the digitization of records project. This has been on the docket for several years.


Shade Tree: The shade tree budget is managed by buildings and grounds and is flat. The Shade Tree Commission is proposing $75K of capital requests per year to start an annual maintence program to maintain our urban shade tree canopy. In addition they requested funds to start a planting program.


Rescue Squad: Since the Mayor is a member of the Rescue Squad, the Deputy Mayor led this part of the discussion. Capital requests from the squad include the new ambulance, which we have ordered, and investment in a special operations vehicle.


Library: The Library is funded from a "mandatory minimum" tax - and in the last two years that tax has been sufficient to fully fund our Library. The Library is making some staffing changes to better cover the front circulation desk. Digital circulation is up 26%.


Civic Affairs and Senior Services: Improvements were made in the accounting and tracking of both budgets to fully account for the costs of our special events. Fair in the Square is now given it's own line item budget to ensure we are managing all event costs more proactively. Our budget for senior events also increased.


Recreation: Labor costs are going up due to increased costs of our summer programs (minimum wage increases). Other expenses are down, as they were transferred to the pool budget or to the senior services budget.


Those are the highlights! If you have any specific questions or comments, please send them to the entire Council here: https://www.veronanj.org/councilcontactform





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