Tensions over high taxes and the school district's recently announced surplus dominated a community meeting Thursday night organized by First Ward Councilor William Hurlock and attended by more than 50 residents.
The gathering was a sign that Hurlock, elected in May, plans to make good on his campaign promise to hold periodic community meetings.
When asked how the school district can get school costs under control—since these costs make up the bulk of the tax bill—Hurlock replied that the Board of School Estimate will no longer rubber stamp every budget that comes before it.
"I think in the past this is what happened but I can assure you that we're going to be different," said Hurlock, who is now on the Board of School Estimate along with new council member Sean Spiller and new Mayor Robert Jackson.
When asked whether the school district's surplus would be applied towards tax relief, Hurlock said some monies would indeed be set aside for this.
"How do you not know there are different numbers out there?" Hurlock asked, speaking of the schools budget. "First we were in a negative budget and then we had a surplus."
Just two years after school officials were reluctantly discussing the closure of schools and the laying off of staff, Business Administrator Dana Sullivan announced in June the likelihood of this year for the school district.
By June 30, 2012, she said the surplus could be as high as $13.9 million.
However, at the time, she and others stressed that the number is misleading.
For example, school officials said that up to $2.5 million are going into a capital reserve fund and up to $500,000 are going into the maintenance reserve fund. In addition, some $4.7 million already has been claimed in the 2012-2013 budget. The remaining amount, about $3.5 million, is what will be used in the 2013-2014 budget.
Sullivan, summed up the financial picutre like this: "The fund balance is projected at $13.9 as of June 30, 2012. $4.7 million will be used for tax relief on July 1 in the 12-13 budget, $3.0 million will be transferred to capital and maintenance reserves. That leaves a balance of $6.2 on July 1, 2012. $3.5 of that amount will be used for tax relief in the 13-14 budget and $2.7 will be held in reserves as recommended by the State."
In general, those at Thursday night's community meeting, held at the Bellevue branch of the Montclair Public Library, brought up a lot of concerns over the town's high taxes.
"We're already looking at waste," Hurlock said. "We've already taken debt off the books that should have been off a long time ago.
"I'd put our first month and a half in office up against any other council's first month and a half," he said.
The new council took office on July 1, 2012.
But when asked whether he would promise to vote no on any tax increase going forward, Hurlock replied "absolutely not."
"I can't stand here and make a promise I'm not sure I can keep," he said. "My word is my bond."
But Hurlock agreed that many programs need to be cut and will be cut.
"Although there are certain quality of life things that have to be taken care of," he said.
Hurlock said that overgrown areas would be weeded and that clay tennis courts would be made into hard courts.
"And we're going to do something about the graffiti," he said. "I've talked with police about this. If you arrest one or two people and publicize it, this will send a message out."
Repeating a theme he often talked about on the campaign trail, he said that "we can't let the town become run down."
What do you think? Did you attend Thursday night's meeting?