A far cry from last year’s boisterous public hearing, Blairstown’s 2023 budget adoption was rather quiet. The Blairstown Township Committee (BTC) sat down to vote on the year’s financial decisions, at a meeting last Wednesday. Unanimously, the municipal budget was passed.
First, the committee approved the use of a 3.5 percent cap bank— which offers monetary leeway and is standard in most municipal budget’s proceedings. Committee member Karen Lance introduced the public hearing.
“I think the main thing to look at is we have a year in which we were able to buy a fire engine, we were able to pay down debt, we were able to pay roads, we were able to do a lot of really good things. And really for very little money.”
Blairstown Township’s Chief Financial Officer, Christine Rolef, and auditor Andrew Kaczynski joined the committee members to review the budget details.
“We are staying true to the promise that was made last year. So, to your average taxpayer, taxes will remain flat at the local level,” explained Kaczynski.
He continued, “A big part of how we did that was we brought back a little bit on the amount of capital that we were spending this year, while still being able to fund $700,000 on these kinds of projects.”
Kaczynski reported that the township’s fund balance was $742,000 at the end of 2022, prior to audit, which shows an increase of almost $160,000 since 2021.
“And in the 2023 budget, we’re going to be using the same amount of fund balance to fund the budget as we had in the previous year.”
Rolef noted some budget highlights. The amount of state aid offered to the township was $3,180,550, with $181,000 coming from state and federal grant programs. $176,000 is dedicated to road repairment from the NJ Transportation Trust.
The tax collection rate was 98.48 percent with delinquent tax payments of $255,000 in total. The local tax base brought the township $1,759,766.
“It’s important to note that we were able to maintain the zero-tax rate without dipping in and using any more of that fund balance,” finished Rolef.
The only Blairstown resident to raise questions about the budget during the public hearing was previous committee member and deputy mayor, Joanne Van Valkenburg.
“The audit expense went up 36 percent. From the budgeted $22,000 of the past few years that went up to $30,000 this year. Is there a reason for that?” asked Van Valkenburg.
Rolef justified this rise in cost stating, “I honestly think they’re worth it… we have a lot of complex issues and we are relying on the auditor and the accountant more. So, like I said, the more complex issues, it’s better to ask the questions and get correct professional advice than make a mistake you can’t correct.”
Van Valkenburg commented on the rise in healthcare costs for municipal employees. Due to state legislation, insurance premiums have risen 23 percent. The Division of Local Government Services and the Cap Levy Workbook allowed for 19 percent of that cost to be excluded from the Cap budget to save municipalities from financial distress.
After Van Valkenburg’s comments Mayor Robert Moorhead closed the public hearing portion of the meeting and signed the 2023 budget into law.
Alex Tironi, Contributing Writer
A recent graduate of George Mason University in Virginia, Alex pursued a degree in journalism with a double minor in American Sign Language and nonprofit studies. She worked as assistant news editor to the Fourth Estate, the university newspaper where she reported on many things but mostly focused on campus crime and PD activity. While working for a nonprofit called the Borgen Project, she wrote about global health and poverty in third-world nations. Alex recently finished an internship writing and editing for a business consulting company in NY. Growing up in the area, she has always been active in her community and brings the same intention as a contributing writer for the Ridge View Echo.