Bloomingdale Mayor Jonathan Dunleavy took time during the Oct. 23 council meeting to persuade residents to vote down the Recreation and Open Space Establishment (ROSE) Fund question that will be on the voters' ballots Tuesday.
The council had voted in August to let residents decide whether the tax rate collected for the ROSE Fund will be lowered to 1.4 cents per $100 of assessed valuation from the current rate of 2.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Dunleavy explained that the fund, at its current rate, brought in $105,000 last year. Due to the borough’s revaluation and resulting increase in assessed value, that same rate would allow the borough to pull in an extra $82,000 through taxes in 2012. However, the August vote, which split along party lines 4-2 in favor of the Republican members, sets the language in the referendum question as specifying a rate wherein residents will not have to contribute additional tax money and the borough will still only receive $105,000.
Dunleavy said he supported a referendum question but had preferred different language which he said “would give the governing body flexibility to lower it if there was ever a financial time you were able to lower it.”
“If there is a year we don’t need funding, we could lower it,” the mayor said. “If it’s a year where we need the full $187,000, it could stay.”
The mayor said his main goal in bringing this up during his mayoral report was to avoid what he described as the misrepresentation of the effect the referendum question would have on taxes. Dunleavy was referring to information included in a re-election campaign flier published by Councilwoman Jo-Ann Pituch that encourages residents to “vote yes for the reduction in the ROSE Fund because it will reduce your taxes.” Although Pituch said she did not want to engage with Dunleavy on the topic, she did repeat that she did not think the ROSE Fund tax should be increased.
“We should be doing what we are doing,” Pituch said. “I don’t want to discuss it anymore, and I want to keep going.”
Dunleavy argued that, if approved, the referendum will not reduce taxes, saying the money currently taken from the fund for recreation and open space services would instead need to be taken from the general budget. In other words, the source the funds are taken from would just be shifted, he said.
“The $27 [individual taxpayers] save by reducing the ROSE Fund is going to be put right back into the general fund, so it’s a shell game,” he said. “There’s no saving. It’s a wash.”
Borough Administrator Ted Ehrenburg explained that both he and Borough Auditor Dieter Lerch had opposed lowering the ROSE Fund tax rate back in August. Dunleavy said Lerch had advised the borough to take the $82,000 increase and use it to offset Department of Public Works salaries and stay within cap without having to cut back or eliminate services.
“It’s the only funding source the borough has to operate in 2013 because there’s no other revenue coming into the town that I can identify,” Ehrenburg said. “You won’t have any money to operate.”
Dunleavy also raised concerns about paying down a $1.8 million bond to repair flooding problems last year. The governing body had taken out $82,000 from the ROSE Fund as a deposit for that bond, and the intention was to pay it back through taxes collected through the fund.
The mayor said that if the ROSE Fund is cut, the borough will have to pay down the debt and go into the current operating budget.
“Once we spend the $1.8 million on flood work, we’re going to have to pay it back,” Dunleavy said. “Therefore, leave it in the ROSE Fund, dedicate an outside cap to offset DPW costs and offset this bond repayment. It’s simple math.”
Dunleavy mentioned that the costs of gas, labor and other materials have risen drastically over the past few years. He said he feared that bringing the tax rate down would complicate the normal operation of the budget.
Councilwoman Linda Shortman admitted that she had originally considered the idea of amending the ROSE Fund tax rate at the July 24 meeting. Shortman had said she would like to see the council have discretion to lower the tax during years of economic hardship for residents. However, the councilwoman said she does not see the benefit of putting more money into the ROSE Fund to do more projects. She also noted that West Milford had undergone a similar revaluation this year and chose to keep its open space tax at its 2011 level.
Dunleavy noted, though, that West Milford has a $180,000 recreation budget, whereas Bloomingdale has nothing in its budget for recreation, fields and maintenance.
“So they don’t need a higher dedicated tax,” he said. “If we didn’t have this ROSE Fund, our fields would be very messy and crappy.”
Dunleavy asked the Republicans on the council how they proposed to offset DPW salaries.
Shortman suggested continuing to look into having DPW employees licensed to do pesticide applications and maintain the fields, keeping field maintenance “in-house” and making sure the AvalonBay luxury rental development pays its fair share of the ROSE Fund tax. She also suggested taking another look at the DPW employees’ contracts.
“When I sat here and saw these contracts pass, I couldn’t believe it,” Shortman said. “You would’ve thought we were in a 2005 economy.”
Dunleavy said he agrees that those contracts might need to be changed in the future but that it will not be possible to do so until they expire in 2014.