Last nights special meeting to introduce the FY 2010 municipal budget was, to put it mildly, a farce and a blatant attempt to mislead residents and those in attendance into believing that all was well.
Middletown's CFO Nick Trasente, presented a powerpoint slide show that did more to highlight how great Middletown's FY 2011 budget would be as apposed to how dire a situation the Township was in this year. The spin attempt was mind-boggling and for anyone that had actually read or saw the proposed budget it was mind-blowing!
Trasente tried hard to spin the numbers in a positive way, he presented slides that tried to explain what the budget wold do, what were the cost drivers behind it and items that would not be in the 2011 budget, but he neglected to add that many of these items were not going to be one shot budget increases like he was inferring. Somethings like the retro active pay increase of $1.4M for the police and the $1.8M payment to fulfill the town's pension obligations would be ongoing.
The biggest snow-job of the whole presentation was when Trasente presented the slide that introduced the proposed tax increase.
The Middletown tax rate will rise from 35 cent per $100 of assessed value to 39.85 cents, for an increase of 4.85 cents. This increase will mean that the average township home that is assessed at $437K will have their property tax increase by $211 a year. In order to make this increase seem palatable to residents, Trasente stated that the percentage increase in the overall tax bill for 2010 would only be 2.8%. It wasn't until Committeeman Sean Byrnes questioned Trasente that the true tax numbers came to light.
Byrnes asked for clarification on the 2.8% budget increase and whether or not this increase was reflective of only the municipal tax rate or did it include the County and school taxes as well, at which point Trasente sheepishly admitted that the rate included all three.
Byrnes then went on to state that the true municipal tax increase to residents was closer to 13% and pointed out that there was no reason to believe, despite Trasente's rosie picture of next years budget, that it would be any better.
Nick Trasente did mention however that as of this point the budget was not finalized, there still could be changes to seeing that the budget will not be officially adopted until mid July giving Committee members plenty of time to solicit ideas from the public and make further cuts like the elimination of Middletown day as an example.
If you want to read a different take on last nights meeting then you can read about it HERE. Kevin Penton of the Asbury Park Press was the first to have an article posted on he subject and while it lacks a few details about what went on, I have to give him kudos for seeing through the attempt at sugarcoating the budget presentation while attempting to present the facts.