MADISON – In a joint prepared statement, Madison Councilman John Hoover and former Councilman Bob Landrigan point to a 2020 municipal budget that is both “fiscally sound and compassionate.” John Hoover of Overhill Drive is running for a second three-year term on the council. Bob Landrigan served two terms on the council before deciding not to seek a third term in 2017.
Bob Landrigan stated: “My former colleague on Council and 2014 running mate, Carmela Vitale, always says that ‘creating the annual budget for the borough is the most important thing we do on Council.’ I agree.
Although Madison’s municipal taxes, including the library and Madison’s open space assessment, represent only 22% of a residential property tax bill – the other 78% goes to our schools (62 %) and to the county (16%) – Madison’s municipal budget funds a lot of services that our residents count on and make Madison the envy of surrounding towns.
These include: police, school crossing guards and fire protection; public works, our recreation facilities and programs; our library and board of health programs and services including our animal and pet programs and free flu shots; senior citizen services; the collection of trash, recyclables, and yard waste; our downtown business development and cultural, historic and arts programs; fall leaf collection and winter snow plowing. It also funds Madison’s contribution to the operation of the sewage treatment plant that we share with Chatham Borough.”
View the related article on the Madison Eagle: Madison Democrats call municipal budget ‘sound and compassionate’
“The municipal budget we approved back in April is a really solid, fiscally responsible budget,” stated Councilman Hoover. “The COVID -19 pandemic presented the borough government with unprecedented challenges, and the administration, Mayor, and we on Council took them on in preparing this budget. Our 2020 budget maintained all our borough services, allowed us to continue to make critical investments in Madison’s infrastructure, and helped to ensure that Madison can maintain its fiscal health in the coming years.
At the same time, the budget included a series of economic measures that helped our residents and small business owners, who had been impacted financially by the pandemic, to weather the storm – the mayor’s COVID -19 Toolkit.”
“Madison has a very open and transparent process that the borough administration and council adhere to as they craft the budget plan,” observed Bob Landrigan. “As in previous years, the council held a series of public meetings in January and February that culminated in a draft budget for discussion at the council’s March 2 budget hearing. It was a good budget that maintained the $2 million electric dividend, the utility rebate program, and all the many other services the borough provides to our residents. A total of $7.8 million was allocated for utility and general capital improvements in 2020 and $1 million from the water utility surplus for the installation of automated water meters throughout the borough.”
Covid-19 Impacts the Budget
“Then everything changed,” Landrigan explained. “The COVID -19 pandemic struck Madison in March. Sheltering in place was instituted, schools, and businesses were closed, and many Madison residents were furloughed or lost their jobs. The impacts on the municipal budget were two-fold: projected revenues were put in jeopardy and the need for additional expenses increased.”
“The good news was that borough finances were in great shape and Madison had a reserve to draw on: the municipal surplus. As Borough CFO Jim Burnet stated at the April 25 budget presentation: ‘We have a surplus for rainy days, and it is raining hard now. Because we have a healthy surplus and the council did not subscribe to the argument that the surplus was a problem, Madison is one of the few towns in the state that can offer local government assistance to the residents and businesses we rely on for Madison’s vibrant downtown.’
John and I agree with Jim and the rest of the council members that having a surplus represents good fiscal management, and that in 2020 it was appropriate to use this asset to soften the blow that the economic downturn had on our most vulnerable residents just as it was in 2012 when we used the surplus to avoid raising taxes to pay to cleanup and repair the borough following Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy.“
Candidates challenge opponents’ claims
John Hoover observed that “Our opponents in this year’s election have both stated that they would work to prevent any increase in property taxes, continue to invest in our roads, sewers, and utilities, address the needs of Madison’s playground and athletic fields and substantially lower our electric rates. Neither candidate explained how they would work that magic.
First, we will grant them that they were discussing only the 22% of a residential tax bill controlled by the borough council when they spoke about not cutting taxes. As it is, this year the municipal tax rate was increased by only 1%, and that was driven by the COVID-19 needs. In 2018 the increase was 0%. For those same two years, the taxes imposed on Madison by the Republican-controlled county government increased by 2.2% and 4.6%, respectively.
To repeat, our opponents say that they want to substantially lower Madison’s electric rates. If rates are reduced, the utility surplus would drop. But the utility surplus is used to pay for our roads, sewers, and utility infrastructure investments – investments our opponents say they want to maintain. The more that the surplus is reduced, the more the municipal tax rate would have to be increased to pay for those investments. But our opponents say they would not raise taxes, so the budget shortfall would have to be made up elsewhere: by a cut in operating expenses. And that has to mean employee layoffs, as employee salaries and benefits represent the largest component of the operating budget. The ultimate result would be that the quality of all those services Bob listed earlier, as well as our utility reliability, would suffer. We don’t believe that’s an outcome our residents want.”
The candidates concluded: We believe that the Mayor and Council did a great job of finding that balance between doing what the municipal government could to support our community, our residents and businesses this year while being prudent in planning for the months and years ahead. We would like our opponents to explain to Madison voters how they would have done better.