TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE MEETING
Township Finances: Projected Expenses Lower and Revenues Higher Than Budget
The finance committee delivered an update at the October 14 regular Township Committee meeting. With three quarters of the year complete, the projection is that revenues will be above plan $9.42 million, fully 10.3%, or $882K above the budget of $8.54 million. As well, expenses are projected to be 9%, or $754K, below plan.
Most of the positive variances appear to be the result of the budget that was constructed with a very conservative outlook. On the revenue side, projected tax intake is estimated to be fully 14% higher ($796K) than budgeted. Given the stability of the tax rate and the assessed values, it is hard to understand the source of this upside surprise. Similarly on the expense side, the biggest variance derives from $606.4K less (or 13%) in compensation. As there were no large pay cuts or layoffs, this positive variance also appears to be driven by conservative budgeting rather than belt tightening.
The presentation also reviewed the recent Agreement with the police union (see other article), engineering costs for three recent years and Affordable Housing costs. As we have highlighted in prior issues, Harding’s state mandated obligation (COAH) to build more affordable housing units could be “very costly”. The actual number of additional units is not clear at this time but it could be at much as 50 and maybe 80 additional units. To put this in perspective, Harding currently owns and manages 24 units - The Farm at Harding on Woodland Avenue (original cost was $3.8 million). One township committee person said that Harding can handle the current requirement, but he is “not so sure that Harding can handle 3 to 4 times” that number. It is clear that COAH requirements are the largest financial unknown for future Township finances and taxes.
Other Items from October 14th Township Committee Meeting:
The EMT squad was recognized for saving the life of a resident with CPR.
The Board of Adjustment made its annual report presentation. The representatives said that most business was routine with two important exceptions: Hurstmont development proposal and the proposed cell tower.
The TC heard from the Historical Preservation Commission and the Planning Board on changes to a township ordinance which regulates demolitions of historical structures – aka the Demolition Delay Ordinance. The TC will consider the input.
Energy Savings: Richard Steel of Commercial Utility Consultants presented a plan whereby townships can purchase generation capacity in bulk – Morris County Cooperative. Importantly, under this plan, residents are automatically enrolled unless they proactively opt out. This unusual coercive structure is a feature of NJ State regulation. Fortunately, the scheme is supposed to save residents 5-10% on the generation portion of their bills. Generation can be about half of a residential electric bill. According to the presentation there is not risk to the consumer.
Tennis Courts – They’re Back…. It appears that there is support from the TC for repairing or replacing the town’s tennis courts after all. The change of thinking is the result of a tour of the new multi-purpose courts at the school. These were supposed to be suitable for tennis and obviate the need for dedicated tennis courts at Kirby Hall. Upon inspection however, the court surface is not correct and the fences are too low. The options to repair the Kirby Hall courts are $75K (“slip-sheet) and $125K (mill and lay new asphalt). The contractor recommends the less expensive option given the state of the current surface.
In addition, the TC was updates on road repairs, paid bills, released escrow, approved best practices inventory, authorized online auction of old vehicles, accepted revenue from state fund for body armor, etc. etc.
New Police Contract
The Township’s contract with PBA Local 340, the union of Harding’s police force, has historically been one of the most important financial decisions the Township Committee can make because of the relative size of the PD payroll and the long term implications due to the post-retirement benefits covered by the contract. After about a year of negotiations, the Township and the PBA concluded an Agreement to cover the term from 1/1/13 to 12/13/16.
The contract calls for a 1.95% annual increase in salary. The prior contract had increases of 3.75 to 4.1%.
In 2014, a patrol officer with seven years on the job will have a base salary of $112, 347. All of Harding officers, except two are at this top step. However, going forward, it will take 15 years for an office (hired after June 1, 2014) to reach the top step. Probationary officers (in their first year of service) have a base pay of $45,219.
In addition, officers get a “longevity increment” for time of service. As an example, an officer with 5-8 years of service receives and additional 3% ($2.8 to 3.4K). The prior contract’s longevity increment was $775. These longevity increment percentages rise 0.25% every 3 years and cap out at 4%.
In addition, a patrolman who is the senior officer on a shift will be paid an increment because they are “acting in a supervisory capacity”. In this case they are paid as a sergeant for those hours.
In addition, the Township reimburses eligible tuition cost and then pays an annual “stipend” (salary increment) to a member who earns an associate ($1500) or bachelors ($2500) degree. Prior contract called for stipends of $300 and $600.
Officers are entitled to vacation. For 1-4 years of service - two weeks (actually 80 hours). For 5-9 years - 3 weeks (120 hours). For 10-14 years – 4 weeks (160 hours). For 15 years – 5 weeks (200 hours). A new provision versus prior contracts says that a maximum of 48 hours of vacation can be carried over to the next calendar year and time carried over must be used not later than May 1 of the following year.
As under the prior contract, there are 14 paid holidays – New Year’s Day, MLK Birthday, Lincoln Birthday, Washington Birthday, Good Friday, Easter, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Friday after Thanksgiving, Christmas.
Sick Leave: Officers are entitled to paid sick leave of 144 hours per year, cumulative to a max of 2400 hours. “Sick leave is to be used exclusively for sickness”. Doctor’s certificate shall be provided if requested. A new provision in the contract allows PBA members to transfer their accrued sick leave (up to a max of 96 hours) to another member who has exhausted their entire bank of time. Sick leave (up to max of 48 hours) can be used to care for sick family immediate members. Upon retirement, officers will receive payment for unused sick leave at a 1 to 3 rate up to a maximum of 144 hours.
In addition, the contract allows for funeral leave and personal leave. No reason need be given for personal leave for up to 24 hours per year.
The so-called 4/4 twelve schedule is unchanged. Officers work 12 hour shifts for four days and then have four days off. Overtime is earned if the shift goes beyond 12 hours.
Big Change to Health Insurance: Perhaps the most important change in the agreement is all active members will be enrolled in a “high deductible health insurance plan.” Data shown at prior TC meetings over the years showed that health insurance costs was the area where Harding was paying much more than surrounding towns – over $40K per family covered due to having no deductible. The new plan has a $1,500 for a single member and $3,000 for a family. The plan for the PBA is the same one that all other fulltime township employees use.
Importantly, in terms of future financial impact, there will be no retiree healthcare benefit for officers hired after July 2013. In 2014, Harding will pay $316K for retiree healthcare – officers and their families. This number will continue to grow as officers retire (eligible after 25 years of service) but will flatten out after about 10 years given life expectancy and the new policy.
As in the past there is a dental plan covers which orthodontia with a $1000 deductible.
A new feature of this contract is that members can establish a Health Savings Account. Harding will provide a 50% match to the maximum allowable by federal law.
The contract made no change to benefits, pensions or healthcare, for retired officers.
Stepping back and looking at the impact of this contract over the long term it appears that the agreement does a number of things: (1) brings current healthcare costs more in line with neighboring towns; (2) pays more to current PBA members ; and (3) “bends the curve” downward of future retiree healthcare costs, IF future Township Committees don’t backslide.
HARDING TOWNSHIP HEALTH DEPARTMENT
Free Vaccine Program
There is a State funded program available to Harding residents who do not have insurance or whose insurance does not cover specific vaccines. The vaccines available are Zostavax (for shingles), Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis known as whooping cough), Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. This program is free to Harding Township residents 18 years of age and older and is available at the Hanover Township Health Department at 1000 Route 10, Whippany. To schedule an appointment call 973-515-6667.
Drug Take-Back Program
Drug disposal boxes have been set up in the lobby of several local police departments and are available 24 hours a day, every day. All prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, vitamins, medication samples, veterinary medications and narcotics are accepted. Not acceptable are needles, IV bags, personal care products, hydrogen peroxide, inhalers, thermometers and other mercury products. Drug drop boxes are located at the Madison Police Department at 62 Kings Road, Madison and Hanover Township Health Department at 1000 Route 10, Whippany.
THE WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE:
Black Bears: Black bears are preparing for winter and are now actively foraging for food. Prevention is the best method for controlling black bear damage. Keep garbage, pet feeding and bird feeding away from wildlife. Black bears should never be fed (Note: in New Jersey, it’s illegal to feed black bears, and violators face a penalty of up to $1,000 for each offense) or approached. If a bear comes into your yard, make the bear aware of your presence. Do not feed the bear! Make sure the bear has an escape route. Yell, bang pots and pans or use an air horn to scare the bear away. Aggressive and non-yielding bears should be reported to the Harding Police Department at (973) 455 0500 or to the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife at (877) 927 6337.
Increased Deer Activity: With the days getting shorter and white-tail deer entering their annual rut, motorists should be especially alert while driving, to avoid collisions with the animals. While deer may cross roads at any time, they are most active during the dawn and dusk hours. If you spot a deer, slow down and pay attention to sudden movement. If the deer does not move, don’t go around it. Wait until the road is clear. And if you spot one deer, be alert for additional ones. If you are traveling after dark, use high beams where there is no oncoming traffic. High beams will illuminate the eyes of the deer on or near roads and provide better reaction time for a motorist. If it appears you are going to collide with a deer, do not swerve to avoid impact. The animal, being totally unpredictable, may counter maneuver. Brake firmly but stay in your lane. Fatalities are more likely, when a driver swerves to avoid a deer and instead, collides with oncoming traffic or a permanent structure alongside the road. Report any deer-vehicle collision to the Harding Twp. Police Department
Harding Land Trust:
The Harding Land Trust (HLT) has achieved land trust accreditation from the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance. Harding Land Trust was awarded accreditation this August and is one of only 280 land trusts from across the country that has been awarded accreditation since the fall of 2008. Each accredited land trust submitted extensive documentation and underwent a rigorous review. Accredited land trusts are authorized to display a seal indicating to the public that they meet national standards for excellence, uphold the public trust and ensure that conservation efforts are permanent. The seal is a mark of distinction in land conservation.
Madelyn Devine, HLT’s Executive Director, says, “We are proud to display the accreditation seal as a symbol of our commitment to excellence in land conservation and stewardship. We are continually striving to refine and perfect our management practices. By earning the accreditation status, we can now show donors, foundations, partner organizations and our local and county governments that we have met these high standards.” For more information about Harding Land Trust, please visit hardinglandtrust.org.