Clifton Faces Budget Deficit; How Much Will You Be Paying?


At Tuesday night’s Budget meeting, the City Council, City Manager Nick Villano, and Chief Financial Officer Joe Kunz discussed the city’s budget shortfall and came to a majority agreement on an introductory budget. “We did not introduce a budget on time,” Kolodziej said, emphasizing the need to agree to something now. The state of New Jersey requires all municipalities to present a budget and Clifton is already behind, with March 31st as the due date for introducing something. The budget that was approved in the work session tonight, by a four-to-three vote, is not final. Council will have to approve this introductory budget for the state at an upcoming meeting and by law, at another meeting two sessions later when they’ll hold a public hearing on the budget. That meeting will be sometime in June.

The city is facing a multimillion-dollar deficit, caused in part by the new garbage contract and by the increased salaries the council voted on for the Clifton Police Department. The salary hike was a necessary step to address the retention problem the department has faced and the expensive overtime accrued (nearly $6 million between straight overtime and special duty appointments). The CPD is currently operating with 14 vacancies, which has contributed to the amount of overtime needed in order to cover all shifts. The boosted salaries are expected to pay off by eventually reducing the need for so much overtime pay but it will take some time for the city to see that return.

Councilman Joe Kolodziej said that the city really needs an 8-point increase just to cover the new garbage contract. Another two tax points would allow the city to add 18 new police officers in addition to filling the existing vacancies. City Manager Nick Villano suggested that the city could make something work with a 6-point increase and after just a few minutes of discussion, Councilwoman Rosemary Pino motioned to adopt that budget. Councilwoman Mary Sadrakula, Councilman Bill Gibson, and Councilman Tony Latona voted no to this but they were outvoted by the other four members. Mayor Ray Grabowski acknowledged that Kunz and Villano had worked hard over several meetings to make a 6-point increase feasible.

An increase of six tax points, for the average assessed home in Clifton of $179,000, would equate to $107.40 for the year. In order to calculate the increase for your home, follow these simple steps:

1. Determine your home’s assessed value. Note that this is a very different number than the market value. You can find this number on your tax card, which every homeowner should have received in January.

    You can also find it by visiting THIS PAGE. Where it says, “Search by Location,” enter your home address and click “search.” (You may need to use an abbreviation for Street, Place, Avenue, etc.) That search will produce a chart. “Total Value” is the number you need.

    2. Compute the tax increase. Divide your assessed value by 100. Multiply that new number by .06. The result is the dollar amount by which your municipal taxes would increase per year under a 6-point budget.

      You can also use this handy tool, created by Councilman Kolodziej, which will do the computations for you once you enter your assessed value.

      Councilman Latona argued that there are millions of dollars sitting in various trust fund accounts and that instead of continuing to add to them, the city should use some of that money to offset budgetary needs so that we would not have to raise taxes by quite so much. “They drastically overestimate our expenditures and underestimate our revenue,” he said, referring to the CFO and City Manager. “You can’t have it both ways.” City Manager Villano and the CFO explained that they cannot base their estimates on the revenue they think the city will bring in, only on what the city has actually brought in previously. State law requires municipalities to base anticipated revenue on funds collected in the previous year. “The budget is a moving document,” Villano said, as he cautioned against taking money from accounts that serve as insurance against unforeseen expenses.

      Councilwoman Lauren Murphy said that they had worked for “hours and hours” on the budget and that the six tax points were necessary to pay for the garbage contract, which increased by four million dollars, increased pensions, and the police department raises, which were widely supported by the community. She added that the city raised fees for things like garage sale permits by a small amount to help generate needed revenue.

      Councilwoman Sadrakula suggested that healthcare benefits be stripped from all 100+ part-time employees, including council members, as a way to save costs. Of the seven-member council, only Rosemary Pino and Ray Grabowski use the health benefit and only a small number of part-time employees are eligible for them, including the city’s crossing guards. City Attorney Matthew Priore said that they cannot do that to currently employed workers and Sadrakula amended her motion to target council members only. Her motion was ultimately tabled until next week’s council meeting since Pino was no longer present and the vote would directly affect her.

      Councilman Kolodziej expressed disapproval of using the police as a revenue stream by encouraging ticket writing. He suggested that the council take another look at passing an ordinance to permit cannabis business in Clifton, which would be a significant source of revenue. Cities like Maplewood and neighboring Paterson have already benefitted from last year’s state legalization of adult-use recreational cannabis but the previous council voted not to allow any of the six license types in Clifton. Maplewood’s single recreational-use dispensary generated more than $500,000 in taxes for the city in its first year. “In my opinion, [at six tax points] it is still not a fiscally sound budget,” he said.

      The City Council will meet on Tuesday, May 2nd at 6:30 for their work session and at 8:00 for the regular session. During the regular session, members of the public will have the opportunity to address the Council on the budget and other topics relevant to the operation of the city. Meetings are held at City Hall at 900 Clifton Avenue.

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