Fiscal Responsibility

The Hazlet Township Committee confronts choices when it analyzes the township budget. Fiscal responsibility is always a top consideration.

Aug 26

Budgets are about choices

Posted on August 26, 2020 at 10:27 AM by the author

By Skip McKay, Hazlet Township Committeeman

The Hazlet Township Committee recognizes that many of our residents are struggling during the pandemic. As an elected member of the Committee, I want citizens to know we are aware of the situation and are taking steps to cut spending and find efficiencies.

In Hazlet, 350 citizens have contracted COVID-19, according to the county health department. And our research leads us to believe half of our households have been negatively impacted by the economic shutdown.

Let’s review our town’s situation. Hazlet has a population of around 20,000. From public records we know that 25% receives Social Security or SSI disability. Another 15% are enrolled in the SNAP food benefits program, with their children receiving free meals at school. And 3,066 people in Hazlet have claimed unemployment since March, according to the county.

Quick math: about 60% of our families have no capability to pay more taxes. We’re not blaming anyone; this is simply the “new reality” we face today.

Rapidly adapting to this reality is our only viable strategy, especially since the Governor has indicated his budget has a $10 billion dollar shortfall. That is 25% of the budget. How will that shortfall be covered? Reducing aid to municipalities seems probable.

The Hazlet Township Committee is revisiting all township services to seek improvements. The Police Dept. led the way by outsourcing our 9-1-1 and Dispatch Services to Monmouth County. Hazlet will save more than $100,000 a year and our officers have better data. Kudos to our Fire and First Aid squads who enabled us to make this change seamlessly and without incident. A difficult change was executed flawlessly.

Our township fuel depot was antiquated and needed to be replaced. The cost would have been in excess of $1 million dollars. The County has allowed us to share its fueling station in town. We are closing our township fuel depot and eliminating those operating costs. An unexpected bonus is that the County pays less for its fuel than we did. We captured that gain also.

On to the Hazlet Swim Club. We experienced an 80 percent decline in paid memberships by May. At that time, no state guidelines existed on how to safely open the pool. Many do not know that more than half the members of the pool club are not town residents. Given the decline in paid memberships, the subsidy to open the pool would have been substantial. The Committee decided to not open the pool this year.  

Our Mayor and Deputy Mayor were deluged with citizen requests pleading to open the pool club. We had a single pathway: to outsource the management of the pool club to a well-established operator who offered to pay all the costs of the people to run the club. Additionally, this operator would pay the town $40,000, money the town could utilize to run the pool. Hazlet’s leadership had only a few days to make this transaction happen. The deal was closed and our members are sunning themselves by the pool. 

The Swim Club is open and economically viable despite all the new state requirements for cleaning and social distancing. With pool management outsourced, the need for a paid Recreation Department was in question. Given the state’s social distancing and crowd capacity rules, traditional recreation events are unlikely. We absolutely did not wish to promote any events where our citizens’ health was placed at increased risk.

The decision to shut down Recreation, while difficult, was obvious. We could not justify paying people to do “busy” work or find “something” for them to do. Absolutely not appropriate given the challenges facing our citizens in their daily lives. We chose to curtail those expenses. Budgets are about choices.

We cannot forecast the future nor foretell what budget challenges lie ahead. Nothing is sacred and leadership is continuously seeking efficiencies.

In closing, I want to thank our Mayor and Deputy Mayor for their relentless efforts during this pandemic. No model existed for this crisis.  

I also want to thank our First Responders, in particular the Volunteers both Fire and First Aid who face COVID-19 in thin paper PPE and face masks. Your courage and community spirit are beyond measure. You ask for little and give of yourselves daily.

Together, we will get through this pandemic.