LOWER MILFORD – Amidst a rancorous and confrontational public meeting here Thursday night, the Lower Milford Township Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to advertise the proposed 2011 budget prior to its eventual adoption this December.
Residents packed the township municipal building as supervisors considered whether or not to cut two part-time police officers in order to balance the 2011 budget. Supervisor Michael Snovitch explained that the cost of those two police officers, Daniel Dieter and David Miller, have largely accounted for the township’s rising expenses in recent years. Snovitch said the 2011 budget proposal is an attempt at “getting costs under control” and “trying to get back to where we were in 2006.” Chairwoman Donna Wright claimed that “I was incorrect” in voting for larger budgets during previous years. Given that the school district and county government have both raised taxes, Wright said she wanted to curb taxes at the township level. Supervisor William Roy joined his peers in praising the police department’s performance. “I don’t want to cut our police.” But, Roy said, the township cannot rely on steady revenue streams as it has in past years. “We have to consider that men and women are struggling.” Consequently, he supported the cuts. “We have to cut the budget and get costs under control.”
Former supervisor Arland Schantz bore the brunt of comments made by Snovitch, and fired back in like manner. Onlookers did not seem interested in the personal war of words, though, with one exclaiming, “Are we talking about the budget or about Arland?” Though Lower Milford has historically employed one or fewer full-time police officers, Schantz argued that the township needed a well-staffed, professional police force. “Times are tough, criminals are getting tougher, and we need protection,” Schantz said, citing recent burglaries and drug deals in the township as evidence.
Snovitch and Wright pointed out that supervisors are not only cutting the approximately $51,000 in salaries for Dieter and Miller, but other costs associated with the officers as well. It is this larger, recurring cost that Snovitch said would sink the township in the long run. The proposed budget also cuts road crew and curbs rising litigation fees. Suggestions to discontinue litigation regarding the proposed Geryville Materials quarry would only “delay the inevitable” for one or two years, he said. “We’re still on pace to hit the red in 2012.” Consequently, Snovitch said, “we’re going to have to do more” to balance future budgets.
Residents such as former police officer Jeffrey Tapler suggested that if the township stops or limits litigation regarding the quarry, then the township would be able to pay for all its current police force. While he did not take a position on the budget question, Township Solicitor Mark Cappuccio did explain the litigation process to the crowd. Cappuccio said anyone has the right to file a lawsuit against the township, including Geryville Materials. Though according to Wright the township has not lost any of its court cases to date, Cappuccio pointed out that the quarry is not legally required to reimburse the township for the costs of litigation. As for whether or not the township should defend its laws in court, Cappuccio said, “If you don’t protect your ordinances, you may as well not have them.”
Wright commended participants. “This is democracy, this is the United States, so thank you for showing up.” She said the board would accept more comments on the budget at its Dec. 2 workshop meeting.
In other news, supervisors unanimously accepted the planning commission’s recommendation to deny Geryville Materials’ request to close West Mill Hill Road for exclusive quarry use. Therefore, nothing will change and West Mill Hill Road will remain open to public use as usual.
Supervisors also announced that they are welcoming letters of interest from residents who wish to serve on the township’s committees. Letters are due to the township office no later than Dec. 16. Wright said there is one opening on both the planning commission and the recreation and open space board. There are also terms expiring on the planning commission, recreation and open space board, zoning hearing board, and historical commission.
Wright announced that the zoning hearing board will meet on Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m., and the curative amendment hearing date has been changed from Nov. 23 to Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m. There will be no other curative amendment hearings during November or December.
The Lower Milford Township Board of Supervisors will next meet for a workshop at the Township Municipal Building on Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m.