GUEST BLOGGER: Inquiring Minds Want to Know…


Guest Blogger:  Kim Skorka

Update 6/25: I have not heard back from Tim Hill, Patrick De Blasio, Rebecca Kane, Kevin Redmond, or Chris Francy.  I’ve resent the emails asking for confirmation that they’ve been received.

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 will ask for the post to be updated as I receive answers.

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

11 thoughts on “GUEST BLOGGER: Inquiring Minds Want to Know…

  1. RAD

    Thank you Kim for being there for us.
    I hope to be able to get involved myself as soon as I am able. Glad to see there is a “Spark” in town !

    Like

  2. Voice of Reason

    A truly well thought out and courteous post asking extremely important questions. Ladies and gentlemen of our governing body, how about a complete and comprehensive response? It is your obligation to the residents of Highlands. We are waiting.

    Like

  3. barbara iannucci

    Wow Kim! Quite a thorough list you got there … thanks for sharing. It is very helpful to keep me on focus for other questions. Speaking of which … how would I find items on the budget that exceeded their proposed allocation and required more budget appropriations to complete? (for ex: T&M projects … I tried reading resolutions one by one to get those values – but gave up given all that have been approved since Sandy).

    Btw … when you total up the values on your list of budgeted vs. spent (in 2013) there is a $869,000+ difference hanging out there. Do you think that’s for a ‘just in case’ scenario?

    Like

    1. Kim Skorka

      Barbara, that’s a question for the council. I have my own thoughts on why the budget is so high, but I’d rather not speculate. Let’s wait for the council and Mr. De Blasio to tell us. 🙂

      Like

  4. Rockemsockem

    Very interesting and thoughtful! I got to say that it’s time for answers and time to stop skirting these serious spending issues. Bravo.. Please share If you get an answer?

    Like

  5. duncan mcleod

    omg!!! you expect….answers….. to questions???? seriously???? if you have to repeatedly ask the same questions and never get answers, well, what does that tell you???

    Like

    1. Kim skorka

      Duncan, yes, I do expect answers. So far two items are answered/resolved.

      I posted here for two reasons: 95% was so that others can see what’s being asked and I can share answers as I receive them, 5% is so that others can see how responsive (or not) the council, Tim Hill, and Patrick De Blasio are.

      Like

  6. Kim skorka

    I’d like to note that Mayor Nolan was the first to respond and directed me to meet with Tim HIll during normal business hours. As Frank is the head of the Finance Committee, I was hoping he could address at least some of the budget questions.

    Like

  7. barbara iannucci

    Kim, based on our ordinance 2-6.5 under Chapter II Administration this is why Tim Hill is the “go-to” man for any public questions directed at the Council. Standard redirect. Hopefully Council members will follow through for you and provide answers as well. Here’s the Ordinance and list of Tim Hill’s responsibilities:

    2-6.5 Duties of Administrator.

    a. Provide a liaison between the council and the departments, boards and officials of the government and other boards and bodies carrying out borough functions.

    b. Act as agent for the mayor and council as the administrative officer of the borough government.

    c. Integrate and coordinate the functions of all departments.

    d. Have overall supervision of the department of administration within which department shall be a division of personnel and a division of purchasing.

    e. Oversee the expenditure programs of each department. No expenditure shall be made nor incurred, nor shall any bill, claim or voucher be paid which together with all prior expenditures exceeds the amount of the appropriation to any department as so reduced.

    f. Assist the mayor in the preparation of the budget for the consideration of the council. During the month of November in each year the administrator shall request the chairmen of the respective committees of council or department heads to submit requests for appropriations for the ensuing budget year.

    g. Review all disbursements, process all bills and vouchers for payment, prior to approval by the council.

    h. Prepare agenda for the meetings of the council; refer to the appropriate department such communications as may, in the judgment of the administrator, require prompt action by such department.

    i. Advise the council on all background matters as an aid to the establishment of policy and the carrying out of the functions of borough government and advise the council and other officials on matters affecting the public interest.
    j. Receive, distribute and follow up requests for information and complaints from citizens on all manner of problems, and keep the council informed on such matters.

    k. Edit and compile releases of information for the public and the press as directed by the mayor and council.

    l. Advise the council on all matters of administrative organization and personnel. It shall be his duty to assign office personnel to the performance of various duties in various departments.

    Like

  8. Time for Accountability

    What a poor effort to respond. Mayor and council members, time to do your job. No more passing the buck. If you don’t have the time, or the desire to serve the community, it’s time to step aside and let interested citizens do what you are not. Consider this a challenge to assess your fitness.

    Like

Comments are closed.