By William and Elissa Cahill
Holmdel Mayor Patrick Impreveduto recently announced that the Township faced a budget crisis – a $2.5 million deficit. Assuring us that the municipal budget has already been “cut-to-the-bone,” Mr. Impreveduto suggested that the Township needed to find new temporary sources of revenue that would “bridge” the budget shortfall for four (4) years until new ratable revenues could begin to be realized. The “bridge” he proposed is to sell off parcel-by-parcel, year-after-year, Township owned historic pastoral farmland and other precious open space in already densely populated Northern Holmdel.
Unfortunately, Mr. Impreveduto’s bridge leads us nowhere. Mr. Impreveduto does not have a plan that will in four years generate even a fraction of the $2.5 million dollars in additional annual revenue required to end the land sales or avoid inevitable tax increases. We should expect that he will continue to sell off Holmdel’s last remaining large contiguous farms and other open space well into the future. Once the land is gone, huge tax increases will follow anyway. That is, unless we are prepared to say no. Unless we believe that we are better than this – that we are smarter than this.
The so called budget “crisis” is not a crisis at all – certainly at least not a new one. Holmdel has had this structural budget deficit for years. But you would not know that by listening to the boasts of our political leaders. Over the last several years, the Township Committee has told us that they delivered a “balanced budget.” Not so. They did not. We were deceived – or at least not told the whole story.
Rather than address it head on. Rather than having an adult conversation with us the people that will pay the bill. The Township Committee hid its deficit through a series of accounting gimmicks. By using the six month float time between when school taxes are first collected and when the township is required to pay the Board of Education, the Township Committee has quietly borrowed more that $25 million from the School Tax Fund – the maximum permitted by state law. Last year alone they borrowed nearly $3.5 million from the School Tax Fund maxing out the amount that could be taken. Wisely, Committeemen Hinds and Fink both voted no arguing that we were leaving no cushion for future emergencies and that we would be facing the same deficit next year (meaning this year). Mr. Hind’s wise counsel was ignored by his three Republican colleagues and the measure was quietly adopted. Mayor Impreveduto and Deputy Mayor DiMaso knew right then and there, twelve months ago, that we were going to face at least a $2.5 million dollar deficit in 2012 with no way to fill it, but they said nothing.
The Township Committee also raided the Swim Club surplus, leaving nothing for repair and maintenance. They raided the sewer trust fund, leaving no emergency fund. They quietly persuaded our police officers to take comp time rather than be paid for overtime. Chief Mioduszewski reported that his officers have so much comp time accrued that they will never be able to use it all – except that we the taxpayers will pay that out when each officer retires. They also persuaded our police last year to defer (not forego) their raises until this year. The result, even with fewer officers this year than last, the police budget didn’t go down a dime because thirty-six officers are receiving a doubled raise this year. And, the Department of Public Works budget? Its budget is proposed to be higher for 2012 than it was in 2011. So much for being “cut-to-the-bone.”
The reason for all this; ensuring their re-electability was more important than ensuring a sustainable budget. Personal interest trumped the public interest. Loyalty to party won out over responsibility to the people. Politics clouded rational thought.
Don’t be fooled again. Don’t believe that in three or four years, vast tax revenues from a redeveloped Lucent property will suddenly begin to rain down upon us like manna from heaven. That is Mayor Impreveduto’s great hope, but it is an irrational hope because there is no plan to make that a reality. Our political leaders fiddled for nearly a decade while Lucent tax dollars burned. While wild-eyed unrealistic plans came and went. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the Lucent site will be generating any additional tax revenue anytime soon. We certainly should not be betting the “farm” on it.
Don’t be fooled when presented with false choices. Don’t allow anyone to drive a wedge between the conservation community and seniors and others on fixed or limited incomes who cannot afford a large property increase. Don’t accept that we have only 2 choices: A $400 tax increase or sell open space. There is a third sustainable choice: Cut spending.
Whether you appreciate the value of open space, or not. Whether you are personally enriched by a walk through the woods or you are not. Whether you have ever taken your child for a walk on your Cross Farm to the reservoir to see eagles flying over head, or not. Whether you are saying “Hell No” to land sales or not sure you even care.Whether Republican, Democrat or Independent, you should be deeply concerned about how your town’s finances are being managed. You should be very, very concerned about the “creative accounting” and the “deals” that are adversely affecting your quality of life and the future of your town. You should be very tired of being played for the fool.
Its time to storm the Bastille. It’s time to say enough! Demand that our elected officials summon up the political courage to bring spending in line with revenues. There is plenty of money already being sent to the town hall. Tell them that you are willing to share in the sacrifice and accept reduced services if necessary. These are austere times. Let’s stop spending money we don’t have. Let’s stop enabling Mayor Impreveduto’s fantasy that “Bell Labs” is coming back – it is not, let’s get over it. If you are outraged, and you should be, then express it to our town leaders by email at firstname.lastname@example.org., by mail at P.O. Box 410, Holmdel, NJ 07733, by telephone at 732-946-2820. If we remain silent, then we will get what we deserve.
William and Elissa Cahill have been Holmdel residents for more than 45 years