Madison Democrats hail ‘pay-as-you-go’ policy

Inspecting Madison’s 1990 Fire Engine No. 3, from left, are Councilwoman Maureen Byrne, Mayor Robert Conley and Planning Board member Rachel Ehrlich, the Democratic ticket for Madison Mayor and Council in this fall’s election. The running-mates said the borough has been accruing capital dollars over a number of years for the 2020 replacement of this reserve engine and the 1995 Rescue Vehicle No. 4 with a new, combined pumper and rescue vehicle, tapping utility surplus without having to issue bonds, incur debt, or disrupt the overall capital program for next year.

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MADISON – Mayor Robert Conley, Borough Councilwoman Maureen Byrne and Planning Board member and Borough Council candidate Rachel Ehrlich, the Democratic ticket for Mayor and Council this November, are pointing to what they hail as the borough’s program of sustainable, “pay-as-you-go” capital investments, calling it a major win for Madison residents that delivers needed upgrades in critical infrastructure in a fiscally responsible way.

The mayor’s office, for a four-year term, and two seats on the Borough Council, both for three-year terms, are on Madison’s election ballot in November. Mayor Conley, of Brittin Street, is being challenged by former Republican Councilman Robert Catalanello of Woodland Road. For the Borough Council, incumbent Councilwoman Byrne, of Albright Circle, and Ehrlich, of Kings Road, will face off in the fall with the Republican ticket of incumbent Councilman Patrick Rowe of Pine Avenue and Kathy Dailey of West End Avenue.

“As recently as six years ago we were seriously under-investing in new equipment and infrastructure, and we were generating most of our investment dollars by drawing down what was left of the capital improvement fund and by one-time sales of borough property,” stated Mayor Conley. “This was clearly not sustainable. Now, guided by recommendations from the strategic planning effort that I initiated during my first term as mayor together with a healthy utility surplus, we are funding our general capital and utility investments on a sustainable, ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis.”

Plan Before Spending

Councilwoman Byrne, who serves as Council Liaison for Public Works and Engineering and is a member of the Finance and Borough Clerk Standing Committee added, “I’m proud of the sensible budgeting process we have in place. It’s just like a family who saves up for a future home improvement. You plan, save and then carefully spend when you have what you need.

“This year,” Byrne said, “the council has allocated over $6.3 million for borough-wide capital improvements and has defined a $28 million plan of investments in Madison’s roads, utilities, and other critical infrastructure for the five years from 2019 through 2023. $4.63 million has been budgeted in 2019 for general capital investment, of which over $1.9 million will be for road improvements and $370,000 for stormwater and sanitary sewer improvements. An additional $1.67 million is going this year to investments in our water and electric utilities.

“Road improvement projects for this year include the reconstruction of Greenwood Avenue from Rosedale Avenue to Florham Park, Sayre Court, Ross Court, Vinal Place, Bruns Street and Community Place. The largest of the projects has been the reconstruction of busy Greenwood Avenue,” Byrne said. “This year’s effort represents the second phase of what has been a two-year program, a portion of which is being funded by grants from the N.J. Department of Transportation.”

Byrne added, “Milling and paving projects also planned for 2019 include Colonial Way, Chateau Thierry Avenue from Park Avenue to Belleau Avenue, Belleau Avenue, Hamilton Street, Chapel Street, Wisteria Court, Crestview Avenue, Laurel Way, Lawrence Road and Lynwood Place. After a busy spring and summer, many of these projects have now been completed. Needed equipment will also be purchased this year for our police, public works, and fire departments.”

Avoiding Debt

Said candidate Ehrlich, “When we have future projects in the capital plan requiring large one-time expenditures, the borough accrues the needed funds over a number of years so that bonding or a major disruption to the operating budget can be avoided.

“An example of ‘pay-as-you-go’ budget accruals,” Ehrlich said, “is the planned replacement of the 29-year-old reserve Fire Engine Number 3 and the 24-year-old Rescue Vehicle Number 4 with a single, combined pumper and rescue vehicle in 2020. The new engine will also tow a new rescue equipment trailer and be fitted with new, dedicated turnout gear. Currently, personal equipment such as air packs must be transferred from the newer trucks to the back-up truck when the reserve engine is called out, wasting precious minutes. The borough began accruing funds for this major purchase in 2018,” Ehrlich noted.

“The primary funding source for all of these general capital investments comes from the electric utility surplus,” Ehrlich pointed out. Madison is one of only nine municipalities in New Jersey that operate their own electric utilities; the others are Butler, Lavallette, Milltown, Park Ridge, Pemberton, Seaside Heights, South River and Vineland.

“Since our borough’s tax-free property holders rely on the Madison Fire Department for the same protection of life and property as our taxpayers do, this use of the utility surplus allows us to share the cost of vital public safety investments with the borough’s tax-free property holders,” Ehrlich reasoned.

The Democratic candidates summed up, “Infrastructure and critical equipment continues to age and naturally deteriorate, but we are making smart investments in new equipment, our roads, our sewers, and in our utilities at a rate that ensures that we will stay ahead of this process. The strategic planning committee on the municipal budget recommended that no less than 10 percent of the annual municipal budget be allocated to the capital improvement fund. This year’s budget appropriates $3.8 million or 11.8 percent of total appropriations to the fund. We are maintaining our infrastructure and equipment, and we are funding it in a sustainable, ‘pay-as-you-go’ program funded by the electric utility surplus.”