Guest Blogger: Kim Skorka
Here is an update on my June 18th post, which is copied below for your reference. To summarize, here are the responses I received in the order in which I received them:
Mayor Nolan 6/18: Good morning Kim. I am going to recommend you set up a meeting with Tim Hill during regular business hours. We have to conduct business at the council meetings and will continue to give everyone their two minutes to ask questions. Also, I would try and speak to Tim on a regular basis so the list does not build up to dozens of questions.
Tara Ryan 6/18: Hi Kim–I just read thru quickly. What I can answer, INFORMALLY, is that the Borough does not pay HES for use of the school. I’ll review the questions later today before the mtg. if I have time. Note that we also resolved the Highlands mobile web page at the 6/18 council meeting.
I hadn’t heard from anyone else so I sent an email on 6/25 confirming that they had received my questions. I wasn’t asking for answers, just that they had received it. Recently some friends had trouble reaching the council via email so I felt the confirmation was necessary.
Becky Kane 6/25: I did receive this email, however I felt that the Mayor’s response handled it, by asking you to set up time to go through this with Tim during normal working hours. This would elevate all 5 council people spending hours getting all the information from our professionals five different times, and responding to the same inquiry. We currently have so much on our plates, that I feel working with Tim to have these addressed would save a considerable amount of time. Please let me know should you have any issues after meeting with Mr. Hill.
Chris Francy 6/25: Kim: I just learned yesterday that you’re an accountant or something like that in the real world. Knowing your background, it makes me wonder all the more why you ask your questions, what is your agenda? If you do work in financial matters for a company, you know that budgets are estimates of spending going forward. They are best guess estimates by well-intentioned people trying to do the best they can in a chaotic post Sandy environment.
You got your answer from Mayor Nolan: schedule some time with Tim/Pat to get detailed answers. Oh, you don’t have time during the day, you work? Guess what, we all don’t have time, we all have daytime responsibilities. If the information is really important to you (vs just trying to embarrass the council/Tim), make the time, get some answers, formulate a better plan for going forward, be a help instead of just a “scold”. Public comment session is not the time or place for this minutia. In response to your persistent attempts to dominate the public portion of council meetings with an endless barrage of questions, we’ve started to limit everyone’s access to comment by enforcing the 2 min rule/one question. How’s that working for you? How do you think that helps everyone else?
Ps: Where do you get off wanting to know if I’ve received your email. Haven’t you heard of receipt request function? GFY, yes I did get your email. Happy now???
Kevin Redmond 6/26: Yes I received the e-mail . I was on vacation last week. I will look at it over the weekend.
Tim Hill and Pat De Blasio: As of this writing neither has confirmed that they received my email nor have they answered my email regarding a meeting. I took the advice of the council and I reached out to them yesterday to explain that I thought emails might be more conducive to their schedules but would like to set up a meeting.
I asked the council to answer my questions so I’ll address some of Mr. Francy’s questions. Yes, I understand budgets are best guesses as to future spending but the people that create the budget have to have an underlying assumption about the spending. There has to be support for that number, an explanation. By asking about the large variances (2013 actual spending vs higher 2014 budget) I am trying ascertain what our tax dollars are being spent on. Once we, the tax payers, understand the budget we will have the knowledge to help the council find cost savings and hopefully roll back our 9.5% tax increase in the coming years.
As for scheduling time to meet with Tim and Pat, I guess that will have to wait until the July 1st council meeting as they have yet to respond to any of my emails.
GFY? Does that really mean what I think it means?
June 18th blog post:
I’ve been attending council meetings on and off since roughly 2007 and regularly since Sandy. There’s quite a bit going on and not everything is addressed at the meetings. I have a running list of questions I bring to each meeting but never get through them all. Today I emailed my list to the council members, Tim Hill, and Patrick Deblasio. I don’t expect an answer right away as it’s a rather lengthy list…
I thought it was only fair that somehow I get this list to the public. These questions would be asked at the council meetings if time would allow but none of us want to be there until midnight. By sharing this list I hope it will generate more interest in what’s happening in our town. Hopefully you’ll come to a meeting to ask questions of your own.
So without further ado, here’s the list:
Did Highlands qualify for any of the state DCA money mentioned in this article? If yes, how much? If not, why? http://www.app.com/story/news/local/ocean-county/sandy-recovery/2014/06/10/sandy-aid-ocean-county/10302185/
When can we expect an update from the finance committee? Per Mayor Nolan during the 6/18 council meeting, the Finance Committee will be meeting within the next 10 days. He has asked Becky Kane for available dates. Also, there may be more people appointed to the committee but he is waiting for Doug Card to be sworn in as he may have some input on committee members.
Does the town pay the school district for the meetings held in the gym? Per Tara Ryan 6/18 – no, the town does not
There are so many committees in town. Why don’t they give regular updates? For example, the environmental commission, shade tree, substandard housing, etc.
What is the status of finding a communication tool for the residents? (ex: Nixle?)
How much is in the Open Space trust fund?
Is the town getting reimbursed by FEMA for the 2014 lease of the borough trailers (municipal and police)?
How much is left on the bond for the fire truck? Are there bonds on any of the other fire equipment?
What spending cuts can you recommend? This is for everyone, not just Mr. De Blasio. Are you asking all borough employees for suggested cost savings?
2014 Budget Quesitons:
- Sheet 12, Central Services – Other Expenses. Why was $37,000 budgeted when only $21,741.48 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 12, Borough Council – Salaries and Wages. Why is there in increase?
- Sheet 12, Borough Council – Other. What is this for? Why was $67,580 budgeted when only $13,928.02 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 13, Assessment of Taxes – Other Expenses. Why was $48,205 budgeted when only $30,790.02 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 13, Legal Services, Other Expenses. What is this for? Why was $177,500 budgeted when only $120,124.15 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 14, Engineering Services and Costs. Why was $150,000 budgeted when only $114,000 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 14, Code Enforcement – Other Expenses. Why was $25,100 budgeted when only $6,738.91 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 15, Police – Other Expenses. Why was $86,066 budgeted when only $63,140.80 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 15-1, Road Repair and Maintenance – Salaries and Wages. Why was $178,000 budgeted when only $153,809.15 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 15-1, Road Repair and Maintenance – Other Expenses. Why was $55,000 budgeted when only $40,891.27 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 15-1, Snow Removal – Other Expenses. Why was $40,000 budgeted when only $18,039.11 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 15-2, Sanitation – Other Expenses. Why was $50,350 budgeted when only $32,861.00 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 15-2, Public Buildings and Grounds – Other Expenses. Why was $80,000 budgeted when only $40,855.91 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 15-2, Condominium Expenses. Why was $28,000 projected when only $5,951.94 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 15-3, Dog Control – Other Expenses. Why was $18,000 budgeted when only $6,165.00 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 15-4, Community Center – Salaries and Wages. Why was $103,000 budgeted when only $77,979.02 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 15-4, Community Center – Other Expenses. Why was $25,000 budgeted when only $14,431.79 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 16, Construction Code Official – Other Expenses. Why was $23,200 budgeted when only $4,146.44 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 17, Electricity. Why was $60,000 budgeted when only $41,544.15 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 17, Telephone. Why was $32,000 budgeted when only $21,460.32 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 17, Landfill/Solid Waste Disposal – Other Expenses. Why was $199,000 budgeted when only $166,2017.39 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 20, Length of Service Awards Program. Why was $45,000 budgeted and nothing paid in 2013?
- Sheet 20, Employee Group Insurance. Why is nothing budgeted for 2014 when $14,505.79 was paid in 2013?
- Sheet 22, Atlantic Highlands – Maintenance of Motor Vehicles. Why was $90,500 budgeted when only $41,760.58 was spent in 2013?
- Sheet 26, Capital Improvement Fund. Is there a minimum balance for this? How is this calculated?
- Sheet 26, Firehouse Facility Upgrade and Equipment. What is this for? What exactly is being upgraded and/or purchased?
- Sheet 26, Restoration of Borough Hall. Why is nothing budgeted for 2014?
- Sheet 26, Firehouse Repairs and Equipment due to water pipe break. Did insurance cover the $50,000?
- Sheet 27, Interest on Notes. Why is there an increase? Does the borough have the option of paying down the notes early? Is there a penalty for early payment of the principal? What is the interest rate on the notes?
- Sheet 27, Capital Lease Obligations. What is this for? Why was there no expense for this in 2013?
- Sheet 29, Reserve for Uncollected Taxes. Why is this less than 2013?
- Sheet 34, Sewer Rents. What is this for? Why is there a decrease?
- Sheet 35, Water & Wastewater – Salaries & Wages. Why is $79,805 budgeted when only $66,379.64 was paid in 2013?
- Sheet 35, Water & Wastewater – Other Expense. Why was $1,152.838 budgeted, which is less than the $1,471,582.11 spent in 2013?
- Sheet 35, Debt Service. Can the bond principal be paid down early? What is the interest rate on the bonds?
Web Site – mobile site no longer has full functionality. It is only for tourism and not useful to residents. Will the mobile site be fixed? I sat with Tara Ryan after the 6/18 council meeting. There is now a link to the borough contacts and emergency contacts. While the full site would be useful (ex, you need to know when the recycling yard is open), this is a good compromise.
Are there any plans to replace trees lost in recent years? Shore Drive is lacking in trees compared to just five years ago.
Status of the community center – when can we start repairs?
Status of boro hall – when can we start repairs?
Status of the Transit Village application and can anything be delegated to move this along? It is included in the Master Plan and was revived after Sandy.
Is Hope for Highlands winding down? Why haven’t we heard about any fundraising or more programs?
Sea Bright celebration & promotion of the town. What is Highlands and the HBP doing to draw people in?
Can we get a composting program going in town to cut down on the tipping fees for garbage collection? Princeton has a program where the residents separate their compost materials and pay a fee to have it picked up and taken to a central location. http://www.princetonnj.gov/organic/CurbsideOrganics.html Chatham has a program where people compost in their own yards and has a great planning tool. http://www.njslom.org/96thconf/presentations/ChathamTwpSaveitToSpadeitProgram-Nov17-2011.pdf