The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Borough Councilmen Don Links and Rob Catalanello in response to one submitted by Democratic candidates Astri Baillie and Ben Wolkowitz, .
We voted for the introduction of the budget to advance the budget process. The decision was based on the agreement from the Mayor and Borough Administration that we would find adequate savings to accomplish our goals:
- Keep taxes low
- Reduce the reliance on spending down surplus to balance the budget
- Eliminate the use of Fund Balance to balance the budget, and
- Fulfill the residents’ desire not to combine the Borough Administrator positions and identify savings to fund this decision.
We voted against the final budget because these goals were not met. For details, please refer to Ms. Tsukamoto’s letter to the editor printed in the May 3, 2012, Madison Eagle.
From inception, residents were cautioned that this budget process would be arduous, and requests for residents’ input was communicated throughout. We have remained silent on several incidents that occurred during the budget process, however, based on the continued spread of misinformation and new allegations surrounding our handling of the budget, we have made the decision to share with the public a few of the challenges we faced.
Rather than "finding a common ground" and coming to a "consensus on the budget," a faction of the governing body forced a political agenda via innuendo, misinformation and fabrication of facts. Days prior to the final budget meeting, the Finance liaison’s preliminary budget recommendation was discarded and several others, crafted with no input from the Finance Committee, were submitted in its stead. Also with no Finance Committee input, the Mayor submitted an 11th hour budget, the timing of which ensured no input from or discussion with the Council. The Mayor then shared details of his budget, along with incomplete commentary on the Finance Committee’s original budget, with certain key members of the public. Councilwoman Carmela Vitale instigated the spread of rumors claiming that three fellow council members were planning to cut subsidy to the library. These rumors, propagated via email, quickly spread throughout the borough, as did the falsehood that the Republican majority had created a “hit list” of organizations, including the Madison Community House, targeted for cuts. Obviously, no such list ever existed. Our goal was to follow NJ state law in funding the Community House. We strongly condemn this pattern of obfuscation; there is no justification for it under any circumstances.
Prior to Ms. Baillie’s declaration of candidacy, Mr. Catalanello reached out to and met with her and others who publicly expressed concern about the budget, to solicit input. Ms. Baillie provided no input, ideas or opinion and merely stated that the Republicans held a majority and could do as they wished.
We trust Madisonians will see through these claims of "playing politics with the budget" for what they are–an attempt to create scandal where there is none to direct attention away from our real financial issues. Let’s talk about open and transparent government–we are happy to compare our fiscal record to that of former Councilwoman Baillie. According to data provided by the borough CFO, during the years 2002-09, when Ms. Baillie was on council:
- Municipal taxes increased 37 %
- Debt load increased by $31,000,000 (including the purchase of 2 contaminated properties which still require remediation at substantial cost)
- Over $9,000,000 in combined Municipal, Electric Utility, and Water Utility surplus was spent down
- Against the advice of Borough Administrator and CFO, Madison entered into a disastrous 5 year fixed price electricity contract
- The infrastructure (i.e., roads and sewer system) fell further into disrepair
We are now paying dearly for Ms. Baillie’s free spending ways. The angst we faced during the budget process is directly related to her past actions and those of Democrat majority councils. Perhaps if she had "asked the hard questions, explored the options" and "made the difficult choices," the true needs of Madison would have been met before those of party politics and special interests and we would not be confronted with the bleak fiscal picture we now face.
As we have done all year, we continue to ask Madison residents to become more active in our local government. Please communicate to the council your ideas on how to tackle our fiscal issues. Please continue to engage the governing body on issues you feel are important. Working together, there is no obstacle we cannot overcome.