Thursday, December 6, 2007

Reading the Aberdeen Municipal Budget

Click Here to Download a Copy of the Aberdeen Municipal Budget

The township has discussed making the Aberdeen Municipal Budget publicly available on its website in 2008. Rather than wait, I’ve decided to make the budget available for download on this blog. The budget posted here is only good for 2007. The 2008 budget should become available in February.

The printed version of the budget has all the numbers but none of the logic that generated those numbers. Everything is written to conform to government accounting as defined by state law. Absent any row-by-row explanation, much of the report is meaningless to the average citizen. Ideally, the township could publish an easy to understand budget overview. Until then, focus on the raw data and ignore the rest.

Part of the budget is restricted by budgetary “CAPS”. The “CAPS” portion is restricted by the state to a 4% growth rate and generally reflects discretionary spending. Most of the budget that’s excluded from “CAPS” is related to state mandates, such as pension funding. For example, in 2007, contributions to the Police and Fireman’s Retirement Fund jumped 58% (Sheet 20). Contributions to the Public Employees Retirement Fund rose 26% (Sheet 20). Maintenance of Free Public Library is up 15% as well (Sheet 20).

Still, this year’s municipal budget of $14,054,897 is only a 1.3% increase over last year’s budget (Sheet 11). Interestingly, only about half of the budget is raised through property taxes (Sheet 11). The rest is raised through a combination of fees, fines, investment income, and grants from county/state/federal governments.

Complaints regarding the township’s reliance on developers do appear to have some basis. The township receives nearly $1 million a year from its PILOT program (payment in lieu of taxes – Sheet 10). PILOTs are negotiated payments between the township and developers in lieu of property taxes.

$160,000 was budgeted for Townhall Improvements, whatever that means (Sheet 40b_i).

The surplus from January 1st, 2005 to December 31st, 2006 appears to have plunged 36% (Sheet 39). However, it’s possible that much of that money was simply shifted into reserves. I don’t know.

Another question mark is the $1.5 million of Property Acquired by Tax Title Lien Liquidation (Sheet 39). By comparison, Morris Township, a town with twice our budget and five times our surplus, lists only $36,475 for that same item. It could refer to the South River Metals site on Church St. That site is being used to construct a senior citizen community, most of whose units will be deeded as affordable housing. Once again, I don’t know.

If anyone could clarify the above items or add anything of interest, I welcome the input. But since the “average Joe” will never fully understand the budget, I urge the township to publish a simplified overview similar to the budget presentation provided by West Windsor. Their presentation gives a quick caption of where the money is coming from, where it’s going, and how the budget has changed over the years. Since West Windsor is also a township in New Jersey, I see no reason why Aberdeen couldn’t provide a similar presentation.

Having a budget available to the public is nice. Having an overview the public could understand would be even better.
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