A surprisingly noncombative township council unanimously approved a $74.9 million 2012 municipal budget on Tuesday night that will result in a less than 1 percent rise in overall local property taxes for residents.
The budget translates to a 5.1 percent increase over last year's $71.2 million budget.
The budget passed 7-0 with little discussion, followed by the exclamation of "Hallelejah" from Mayor Jerry Fried and a round of applause from the audience.
In years past, the council has debated heatedly—for months—before approving a budget.
Tuesday night's vote means that Montclair homeowners will see, on average, a rise of $108.24 in their overall combined municipal, school, and Essex County tax bill.
The total 2012 tax levy will now be $51 million, or 4 percent more compared with $49.1 million last year.
The municipal budget included an increase in funding for the Montclair Community Pre-K. Even so, the school will receive only $62,500, or half of the $125,000 it got last year. The budget also included $350,000 for the Montclair Public Library.
On Tuesday night, Councilor Renee Baskerville also was able to successfully persuade the council to add $15,500 to the budget for a summer youth jobs program that would create jobs for 22 young people.
The allocation, however, was opposed by councilors Rich Murnick, Cary Africk, and Mayor Jerry Fried.
"We are still in a time of austerity," Fried said. "I hope that future councils will be able to do things like this.
"But our house is not yet in order," he said.
Africk said he was concerned that areas such as the municipal court are still being underfunded.
"I'm concerned that the municipal court is only getting $19,000 more even after judges came to us and said they [don't have the staff] to fill out the proper paperwork for expungements or [to deal with] people from out of state who pass through town and get a ticket," he said.
The council also voted Tuesday night to approve more than $6 million in spending—for items that range from computer equipment to township vehicles—angering residents such as Sandy Sorkin.
For example, the council approved a bond ordinance appropriating $3,053,440 for various improvements to school buildings and grounds.
"We have been standing up here for months if not years saying please stop ... $6,296,000 is absolutely totally inappropriate ... would you please reconsider these expenditures?" Sorkin said.
Ultimately, though, the township council said it believed it had little choice but to approve the funding. Councilors noted, for example, that various buildings in town were in need of repair to prevent them from completely falling down.
And Township Manager Marc Dashield emphasized that, despite the capital expenditures approved Tuesday night, Montclair still will be able to pay off $2.4 million of its debt.
Also Tuesday night, Africk expressed frustration that the township was funding improvements on streets such as Valley Road but not funding improvements on Highland Avenue, which he has called a disgrace.
Fried explained that Township Engineer Kim Craft prioritizes street repairs around town and noted that Highland Avenue is simply not a top priority as it's not well traveled enough.
In addition to budget and spending matters, the township council also approved a resolution designating Montclair Kensington Urban Renewal as redeveloper for the implementation of the Hahne's Redevelopment Plan on the Church Street parking lot site.
The company will work with the township to develop a plan to build a controversial 88-unit assisted living facility on the site.
Councilor Nick Lewis said that he hoped the redeveloper follows through on everything the company has promised.
"We are doing this [vote] on the basis of all representations that have been made to us," he said.
Councilor Rich Murnick also said he wished to see the township's interests protected.