Hillsborough's 2009 budget is up for public comment at the next Township Committee meeting on Tuesday [July 14, 2009]. The $28 million budget, which includes a $36 annual tax increase for the average Hillsborough home, might be considered a decent budget under ordinary circumstances. Considering the national recession/depression, and the disastrous economic condition of New Jersey, this budget is extraordinary.
Going into the budget process this year, township officials had to find a way to make up for a $270,000 reduction in state aid - on top of a $600,000 decrease the previous year - as well as a decrease in interest earnings of $200,000. This was accomplished by reducing appropriations from 2008 levels for 34 separate budget line items - and holding steady 24 others - as well as eliminating 5 full-time positions, for a savings of over $800,000!
I would also characterize the budget as being employee-friendly - a worthy accomplishment in these hard times. Because the full-time staff reductions were accomplished by eliminating two positions through retirements, two by not filling vacant positions, and one through combining a vacant position with a current one, no one will be receiving pink slips this year. Compare that with Montgomery, which is eliminating 14 jobs, and Franklin Township which is negotiating with unions over layoffs and furloughs.
I believe the relatively good shape Hillsborough finds itself in is due to good fiscal management over the last several years. A useful example is the township's recent aversion to borrowing. Hillsborough's debt service this year is just $2 million, while Montgomery - which also has a $28 million budget - has a current annual debt service of $5 million! We can see how out-of-control borrowing severely limits budget flexibility by taking a look at each municipality's proposed capital budget. Hillsborough is spending a modest $800,000 in capital expenditures, while Montgomery is only able to budget $111,000.
Having said all of that, there are still more savings to be found. I am confident that in future years the Hillsborough Township Committee will find more ways to save through shared services, and will seriously consider using Somerset County for emergency dispatch services.