Andover budget update

| 11 Apr 2012 | 02:20

    By Rose Sgarlato ANDOVER — A zero-increase was budget was introduced at Monday’s Andover Township committee meeting. But to secure this next year for the taxpayers, there is still work to be done by the committee before the budget’s adoption on May 14. The projected 2012 budget for Andover is $7,487,114. Township officials are working off of a 44-page municipal data sheet to analyze the budget line by line. Committee members said they have been studying it diligently to come up with ways to keep the budget flat without cutting municipal services or imposing layoffs. “We're doing the best we can to make the best decisions,” said Committee Member Phil Boyce. "We do everything we can to come in with a flat budget. People are not willing to give up emergency services like the police and fire departments. And we would like to avoid more layoffs.” At the start of the meeting, there was an intention of introducing the budget with about a $35 increase per taxpayer based on Andover Township’s average house valued at $247,000. But after much discussion and input from the public, it was agreed upon that the budget would be introduced with a zero-increase. This means committee members must go back to the drawing board to close the $90,000 gap from last year. In the arduous and ongoing process of submitting a final budget for adoption, there is a general consensus among committee members that although they would like to keep the budget flat, it may be an impossible goal based on findings by the township's chief financial officer. Resident Richard Hammler spoke out about raising taxes: “I recocognize balancing a budget is a difficult, and I thank you for the time you spend on it. But I am deeply distressed when I heard that committee members were considering raising it even one dollar. We cannot spend money we don’t have. I would urge you to think very carefully about raising our taxes and consider every option including your own benefits package.” “We are still considering all the suggestions and recommendations that have been made to us,” said Committee Member Tom Walsh. The Andover Regional School District's budget also entered the discussion at the committee meeting. The recently approved school district budget will mean a $131 increase for the average home price of $247,000 in the township. Committee members also noted that enrollment in the district was on a steady decline. “We are such a small portion of your tax bill," said Mayor Mike Lensak, addressing the public. "We have done a hell of a job for the past three years. The board of education should be questioned, people should show up at their meetings and speak out. To keep our services, I am okay with $35, but I am appalled with the board of education.” However, the sentiment remained that any increase is potentially damaging. “People are not able to pay their current taxes, about 13 percent of our population,” said Committee Member Bob Smith. “I still want to go to a zero increase and look at a few issues like the open space tax, police overtime and benefits issues.” Deputy Mayor Gail Pheobus agreed, saying, “We have to make some hard decisions. This $35 increase becomes a lot when you add the school and county taxes to it. We may have to cut services and look at benefits. It all goes back to the schools. The enrollment is decreasing, and the schools should be consolidated to one.” There was also discussion of decreasing the emergency surplus fund which is part of the budget, but not all of the committee members think that's a wise move. “I'm against eliminating the surplus fund," said Walsh. "I've been doing the budget for seven years and it is irresponsible to dip into revenues." The township is also discussing introducing cost-cutting referendums on the November ballot to get a head-start on the 2013 budget. The budget is scheduled to be adopted by May 14.