Recently you received a letter regarding the need for the Holmdel Township Committee to close a $2.5 million funding gap in the municipal budget, and the options being considered by the Committee. That letter and the media coverage of our budget issues have generated a tremendous amount of feedback. This feedback will be very helpful in determining the course taken by the Committee and it is greatly appreciated.
Many of you have suggested spending cuts – typically identifying 10 – 12% as a target - as a way of closing the budget deficit. Over the past few years, in an effort to keep property taxes low despite decreased state aid and major cost increases, the Township Committee has in fact made significantly deeper cuts than those suggested. We reduced our workforce by 29 people - a 22% reduction - including reducing the police force by 8 officers. We shared services with other municipalities and the county, and we have merged or eliminated functions. Our Public Employee unions have stepped up, making contract concessions and providing give-backs of pay and benefits. Unlike many municipalities, our public employees do not receive lifetime health benefits upon retirement.
If it were possible to cut our way to a balanced budget rather than raise taxes or sell assets, and do it in a way which would not have a major negative impact on our town and the services we provide, believe me we would do it. Unfortunately, there is no way to do that.
Simply put, the major cost reductions have been done already. We could not cut $2.5 million, or a significant portion of that amount, without decimating the police department and the Township staff. All non-essential departments, would have to be eliminated. Essentially we would be cutting services to the bone and putting public safety in jeopardy.
We will continue to pursue efficiencies and evaluate staffing levels. But again, cutting our way out of this budget gap is not a viable option.
Our long-term goal is to move to a point of balanced, sustainable revenues and operations over the next 3-5 years, (88% of our tax revenue come from our residents while only 12%come from commercial) while maintaining Holmdel’s uniquely desirable characteristics. This will include effective redevelopment of the Lucent site, compatible and high quality commercial and retail development in appropriate zones, and continued organizational improvement and efficiency. We are already taking steps to achieve this point: working with the owners of the Lucent property, establishing a more business-friendly development process for quality projects, and joining in County and State economic development activities.
Implementing this 3-5 year plan, however, might require a need to exceed the state mandated 2% property tax cap this year. It is our firm belief that if this action were to come to fruition it will alleviate the need for us to exceed the cap for a significant period of time.
However, if this is our choice, as part of our 3-5 year plan to balance revenues and expenses, we will ask you the residents of Holmdel to approve a referendum to exceed the budget cap in April
We will continue to pursue all available options and consider your input as we move forward.