While the Montclair township council passed its 2010 budget only two months ago, budgetary funding for 2011 dominated the discussion at last night’s council meeting.
The surprise came at the end of the meeting, from Harvey Susswein, treasurer of MAC, when he recommended to deny all funding for MAC in the coming months. Susswein reported that MAC has recently received a $15,000 grant from the state, which would be “sufficient to complete the wind down of MAC and completion of its programs for the remainder of the year.” It was clear — though not till after much discussion preceding Susswein’s presentation — that MAC would no longer continue to exist in its present form when 2010 ends.
The meeting opened with Township Manager Marc Dashield forecasting to the mayor, council and 22 people present in the council chambers the circumstances surrounding the budget for 2011. In addition, he offered his recommendations concerning how much the council should put in the temporary budget for these two organizations. The temporary budget will be voted on at the next council meeting, on Dec. 28.
“There will be a tremendous stress on the 2011 budget,” said Dashield.
Speaking in approximations, Dashield said that Montclair ‘s 2010 budget is $70 million. Of this number, $39 million is mandated for things such as insurance and debt in the township; $30 million is dedicated to salaries and wages; the remaining funds are for various other expenses, such as the MCPK and MAC.
Because of the newly mandated two-percent tax levy cap signed into law this year, Montclair’s budget can only increase by approximately $900,000. Dashield estimated that municipal salaries and wages will increase by $900,000, while pension and health insurance costs will expand by nearly $2 million.
Dashield then included into these projections the expected revenue shortfalls, all of which would make the township $3.3 million over budget.
In order to reduce this turgid budget, but also focus on providing the core principles of “safety, health and welfare,” Dashield recommended to the council that the MCPK and MAC be funded for the first-quarter of 2011, or 90 days. This will afford them time to “transition out” and find alternative sources of funding.
The first-quarter funding for MCPK and MAC would amount to $70,000 and $52,000, respectively.
Upon questioning from the council members, Dashield admitted that although he was suggesting to fund MCPK and MAC for only three months, he had no specific plan for where exactly the township would find the money to appropriate to them in the 2011 budget.
After Dashield finished, Scott Novak (right), chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Montclair Early Childhood Corporation, offered to the mayor and council their own comments.
The MCPK is a publicly and privately funded institution, which provides a safety net for those families that cannot afford pre-K education for their children. Tuition is based on a sliding scale, where lower-income families pay less, and families making a higher income pay more; the difference is made up in scholarships provided by fundraising efforts, grants and funds from the township. Monthly tuition for a single student ranges from $80-$975 a month, said Novak.
If the township denies its funding for the second half of the year, Novak said that an estimated 70 of the currently enrolled students could not afford to attend the school.
With an annual budget of $2.3 million, Novak said the school would need $200,000 to make it through the rest of the year.
“We are facing a fairly depressing 2011 when it comes to the budget,” said councilor Nick Lewis. “I am hoping against hope something can be found in the future.”
The council seemed on the precipice of an unsettling position, and it showed on their faces. On one hand, there clearly needs to be budget cuts, and MCPK is not at the top of the list for funding. However, by not offering any funding, the council will essentially leave the MCPK without the means to educate all of the currently enrolled pre-K students; not to mention it could cause some parents to take their children out of the school entirely for the remainder of the year.
“This sounds like an obituary,” said councilor Rich Murnick.
Councilor Renee Baskerville applauded Susswein and MAC for their “selfless gesture.”
Baskerville’s sentiment was echoed by most of the other councilors in one form or another.
Linda Davidson, who is on the MAC Board of Directors and also Assistant Dean for the College of the Arts at Montclair University, was one of the only residents to speak to the council in support of MAC during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“I just want to say that for the very first time in my memory,” said Davidson, “having lived here 18 years, I don’t ever recall the Arts not being represented in anyway, shape or form in the municipal government.
“This is the first time, it appears as so, that there is no funding to support entities that support all of the Arts collectively in the township. And I think it is a very very sad day. The small amount of funding that the township has provided has leveraged so much, in terms of funding for the Arts.”