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Levine Trying to Avoid Borough Layoffs At All Costs

N. Caldwell mayor, council examine options to compensate reduction in state aid.

While surrounding municipalities and school districts plan to introduce their budgets over the next couple of days, the Borough of North Caldwell continues to search for solutions to a 23.4 percent—the fourth-highest percentage among Essex County municipalities—reduction in state aid.

"We're making changes on the latest bombshell," Joseph Kunz, the borough's administrator, said Monday. "Hopefully, there are no more."

The Caldwell and West Caldwell governing bodies expect to introduce budgets Tuesday night, while the Caldwell-West Caldwell Board of Education will hold a public hearing on its budget Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.

The West Essex Regional School District and the North Caldwell Public School District will each hold their public hearings Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m.

However, the Borough of North Caldwell doesn't expect to introduce its budget until perhaps as late as its April 27 meeting, Kunz said.

Gov. Chris Christie announced two weeks ago a sharp reduction in state aid to school districts and municipalities with the Borough of North Caldwell from $598,383 to $458,056—a reduction of $140,297 for next year. It's a reduction of more than 23 percent—ranking only behind Livingston's cutback of 23.7 percent and Glen Ridge and Roseland, each cut by 23.5 percent, in the county.

North Caldwell Mayor Mel Levine said that he has spoken with the governor a few times regarding the recent budget changes.

According to the mayor, who said the borough had always planned on introducing the budget in April regardless of the recent changes, reducing personnel will be the borough's last resort.

While there had been discussions that the municipal budget would increase, Levine said that it is still too early to tell what the final numbers will indicate.

"There is not a lot of flexibility in the budget," Council President Joseph Alessi said. "We're going to have to look at everything. We're a lean municipality."

Kunz said the biggest increases to the budget have been health care premiums for municipal workers, costs paid for the Caldwell sewer system and other utilities. Levine added that he is looking at paring down the utility costs.

One area that the borough could consider is increasing municipal fees, but that was something Kunz was cautious of implementing.

"You don't want to make it cost prohibitive," the administrator said.

Kunz pointed out that the borough has been proactive in keeping costs down and also reducing full-time positions into part-time ones.

The North Caldwell council approved at last week's meeting the appointment of two part-time recreation department positions to replace a full-time employee, Donna Montesano.

As a result, Jamie Cannon was appointed as the recreation department's program director, while William Maranz was appointed as the department's athletic director.

Alessi pointed to several shared-services programs with area municipalities like Caldwell and Essex Fells as cost-saving measures that the borough has instituted in recent years.

In addition to approving an ordinance to permit home businesses in the borough, the council also voted last week for an ordinance that will force companies to reimburse the municipality for the cleanup of hazardous spills, leaks or fires.

The measure would also impose a $500-per-day fine for companies that do not reimburse the borough in the appropriate time frame. 

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