Morristown approves $35.9M budget, after fireworks over administrator raise

The Morristown council on Tuesday approved a $35.9 million municipal budget that holds the line on tax increases for the fourth straight year.

Administrator Michael Rogers has been instrumental in keeping taxes low, Mayor Tim Dougherty told the council. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Administrator Michael Rogers has been instrumental in keeping taxes low, Mayor Tim Dougherty told the council. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

But two council members voted against the spending plan after objecting to a 10 percent raise proposed for the budget’s architect, town Administrator Michael Rogers.

Mayor Tim Dougherty urged the council to endorse boosting the Administrator’s salary from $122,000 to $135,000, which the Mayor said is the average for municipal administrators in Morris County.

“I think he deserves it … He’s proven what he can do as a business administrator. We don’t want to lose him,” the Mayor said.

Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid countered that she could not back such an increase at a time when other employees are getting raises of 2 percent or less.

 

Administrator Michael Rogers, left, listens as Mayor Tim Dougherty proposes a raise for him. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Administrator Michael Rogers, left, listens as Mayor Tim Dougherty proposes a raise for him. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Comparative figures presented by the Mayor at the meeting lacked details about the duties and length of service of other administrators, she said.

Noting the town’s hiring of a code enforcement official last year to oversee certain department heads, the Councilwoman implied that the Administrator should have handled those responsibilities.

Raline also said constituents in her Second Ward were unhappy with the town hall’s handling of traffic- and street-cleaning issues.

Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid, right, raises objections to raise for the town administrator. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid, right, raises objections to raise for the town administrator. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“My conscience tells me I can’t support it,” she said of the raise.

Councilwoman Alison Deeb also voted against the budget, after echoing Raline’s concerns about the code enforcement oversight and the last-minute numbers.

“I don’t like these comparisons thrown at me in the 11th hour,” said Alison, the lone Republican on the council. She further suggested the rosy tax picture may be illusory, since the library tax was split off from the town budget in 2011.

But the majority sided with the Mayor, who rattled off significantly higher administrator salaries from places like Livingston, Princeton and Red Bank, and Butler and Chatham in Morris County.

Councilman Stefan Armington said the dissenters have had five weeks to challenge the Mayor’s proposed salary ranges, available online.

“For four years in a row, there’s been no increase to taxpayers. A lot of that is due to the diligence of the business administrator,” said Council President Rebecca Feldman. Municipal taxes decreased or stayed flat in the years after the library portion was separated, she added.

Michael Rogers is a veteran of nine Morristown budgets, a fact that impressed Councilwoman Michelle Dupree Harris.

“He has the history of Morristown. You want to keep someone who knows what he’s doing,” Michelle said.

Although municipal taxes are not increasing, Morristown residents will see a bump in their overall bills because of rising school taxes.  The owner of a home assessed at $350,000, the town average, will pay an additional $56 a year, for an estimated total of $9,103.50.

The town budget passed by a 5-2 vote. Later, Raline and Alison turned around and voted for introduction of another ordinance enabling the pay increase for the Administrator.

IN OTHER BUSINESS…

By a unanimous vote, the council also approved the $1.2 million budget of the Morristown Partnership.  About half of the business organization’s funding comes from a “special improvement district” fee paid by downtown businesses; the rest comes from sponsorships and events such as the fall- and Christmas festivals on the Green.

The Partnership also won approval for Meet Me In Morristown, a joint venture with Morris Arts to bring artists and performers to downtown sidewalks on the last Thursday of the summer months.

Another measure that would have extended hours for food vendors on the Green to 10 pm (from 6 pm) died when no council member made a motion for a vote.

The council also gave a unanimous thumbs-up to a 30-year tax abatement for the CVS pharmacy project at Speedwell Avenue and Spring Street. Thanks to a quirky formula, the tax break is expected to net more money for the town–at the expense of the school district. Project developers sought the relief because of legal- and weather-related issues they blamed for driving up costs.

In other business, Linda Stamato was appointed to replace Councilman Michael Elms’  Christopher Garibian on the Morristown Parking Authority, by a 4-3 vote. Michael Elms, Michelle Dupree Harris and Raline Smith-Reid favored another candidate.

Meredith Marcus was the unanimous choice to replace Helen Dodick on the zoning board. (Helen left to serve on the planning board.) Scott Wild becomes the first alternate on the zoning board. Former council candidate Naveen Nadipuram was tapped as the second alternate.



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