Layoffs likely in Mount Holly
BCT story by Rose Krebs
MOUNT HOLLY – Officials already are dealing with the ramifications of Wednesday’s failed referendum.
Because voters rejected the township’s request to go $750,000 over the state’s 2 percent cap on tax levy increases, officials must close that budget gap. Layoffs are the likely first course of action.
Township Manager Kathy Hoffman said she is preparing layoff notices to be sent by next week to individual employees. General notices were sent out earlier this week when the state approved the township’s layoff plan, Hoffman said.
Layoffs are expected to be instituted by June 24, pending any further budget changes.
The submitted plan included the elimination of eight officers on the 22-member police force, seven crossing guards, a public works employee, a housing and zoning officer, two clerical workers and an administrator.
Hoffman said it also includes the demotion of two police lieutenants to sergeant and a sergeant to patrol officer. The department now has two lieutenants and three sergeants. The salary for lieutenants is about $104,000 and for sergeants about $93,000. The police chief makes about $105,000, and the average salary for patrol officers is $78,000, Hoffman said.
“Unless the unions come back with some concessions, there will be (eight police layoffs),” she said. “I want to sit down and see if we can avoid (those layoffs).”
Hoffman said she does not believe the township can function properly with so few police officers and the other staff cuts.
“I’m just speechless,” she said of the referendum failure. “I just don’t know how we are going to function. I’m just trying to figure out how we’re going to make it work.”
Chief Steve Martin will have to come up with a plan for the department to operate under reduced staffing, Hoffman said.
“It’s a sad day for the services in our community. A lot of services will have to be cut, and we will not be able to accommodate special events,” Martin said. “I have serious concerns about officer safety, as well as making sure we are going to be able to deliver the best product to the community as possible.” Martin said he has begun working on some options.
Hoffman said superior officers may even need to patrol streets, or the township might have to rely on “mutual aid” agreements with neighboring towns or on New Jersey State Police coverage. Shared-services agreements are being discussed with other towns, she said.
Deputy Mayor Ryan Donnelly is open to such agreements. ”I would definitely be in support of a combined department (with another town),” Donnelly said. “Reform is coming down (from Trenton). Shared services is something they are going to push.” He said he would prefer sharing police services with neighboring towns rather than relying on state police coverage.
Rich Pietrow, president of the township patrolmen’s association, said he was disappointed that the municipality did not make a bigger push to educate voters about the referendum.
“It should have been a team effort,” Pietrow said. “There was no effort by the council or manager to educate people.”
Hoffman said the referendum was discussed at budget work sessions and meetings. ”The governing body and myself did what we could financially, given the situation,” she said. “I don’t have any money and I’m going to go through the costs of doing fliers?”
One wild card that could still affect the budget is the potential closing with the redeveloper of the Mount Holly Gardens. The township is waiting to secure a $2.6 million payment for the first phase of construction. Hoffman said the county is seeking clarification on a few issues before closing can move forward.
“When that money comes in, the next decision is, (is that money) going to be utilized to put staff back in place or to pay down debt (on the redevelopment project)?”
The Township Council was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the budget Monday, but that will be pushed back, Hoffman said. The next meeting is at 8 p.m. May 9 at the municipal building on Washington Street.
The council is considering an $8.4 million budget with a $3.9 million tax levy. The proposed tax rate, without the additional $750,000 in funding, would be about 58 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Residents owning homes assessed at the township average of $172,500 would pay about $1,000 in municipal taxes.
A reassessment of properties went on the tax books this year. Last year, the tax rate was $1.15 per $100 and the average assessed home was $82,600. The average homeowner paid $950 in local purpose taxes.