HOWELL – At a recent meeting of the Howell Council, the council members voted against introducing the 2018 Municipal Budget after discussions regarding cutting costs and making significant changes surfaced.
The meeting was filled with long pauses and silence from most of the council members as the final reading of the ordinance to introduce the budget became the topic of discussion.
The budget was originally intended to be introduced at the previous March 6 meeting of the council. Mayor Theresa Berger noted at this meeting that she required more time to review the items in the budget. The council scheduled another budget hearing on March 9, lasting approximately 15 minutes, at which most of the council members again had very little to say regarding the contents of the budget.
At the March 20 meeting, when a motion was made to introduce, the council remained silent, nobody offering to second the motion.
At this, Deputy Mayor Robert Nicastro was the first to speak up definitively against passing the budget.
“Although this budget is a responsible budget…for me, the only way to continue a conversation is not to introduce this budget,” said Nicastro. “The tax levy is still going up and if we continue on this path, I don’t see how it’s sustainable in this town.”
Nicastro noted that he brought to the attention of the council a recently passed bill that discussed shared services and conversation. Following this, Nicastro said the council never discussed it as an option. He emphasized that he did not support passing the proposed budget until these options were brought to the table.
Mayor Berger had a few questions, asking what services could be consolidated or shared and at what cost. To this, no one had an immediate answer.
“When we look at numbers that we have no control over, then we need to do something desperately drastic to numbers we can control,” said Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell. “We never want to cut services, and my hope is that we never do, but we definitely need to reform, rethink, and re-digest what we need to do to make this budget palatable.”
Councilman Robert Walsh echoed O’Donnell’s words saying that, unless the township cut costs, departments, or employees, there was nothing they could do to improve the current budget.
“The only way to cut costs is a drastic fashion is by consolidating departments or by eliminating employees, which is going to eliminate services,” said Walsh.
Walsh mentioned that the township has cut services in the past when they eliminated the recreation department approximately 7 years ago and the health and human services department, about 13 years ago.
He noted that by consolidated services the township could save money on employees and perhaps even increase revenue. However, he emphasized that a majority of the budget is still comprised of figures out of their control.
The council voted against the passing of the budget, with three no’s and one yes from Walsh. They remarked that they planned to discuss the possibility of shared services within the township to improve the budget.
Chief Financial Officer Lou Palazzo explained that the state allows 28 days following the introduction of the budget before the official adoption of the budget.
“If the budget is not adopted in a timely manner by the governing body…the council members and the township could be subjected to fines,” he explained. “We are up against state deadlines.”
The date the council planned to adopt the final budget was scheduled for April 17, which would have given them 28 days from the date of introduction on March 20, had it passed.