Dear Red Bank,
“With great power comes great responsibility.” The media and the press play an important role in our democracy. The influence and impact they have in our community is greatly appreciated and cherished by local government. The Society of Professional Journalists has adopted four principles to serve as their “foundation of ethical journalism”. (https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp) Some local websites or blogs have continued to demonstrate their lack of credibility as legitimate news sources and do not abide by these media industry principles or standards of ethical journalism. Most recently, one such website owned and operated by an “Editor” with no journalism training incorrectly claimed, “Red Bank Council Will Vote on Increasing Budget by $628k”. The reference for this claim is based on Ordinance 2020-12, which is a procedural ordinance that has similarly been adopted annually in the past (e.g. Ordinance 2014-07, Ordinance 2015-07, Ordinance 2016-05, Ordinance 2017-10, Ordinance 2018-13, and Ordinance 2019-28). This Ordinance is not the mechanism for adopting the annual budget, and it is not how the Borough of Red Bank increases appropriations. This Ordinance is a tool used by many municipalities to provide for the flexibility of increasing appropriations based on the federal Cost of Living Adjustment rate, to respond to emergencies or special circumstances requiring more money in future years. (More information on this is provided by the State Department of Community Affairs in a Local Finance Notice at https://www.nj.gov/dca/divisions/dlgs/lfns/19/2019-13.pdf) It does not mean the budget will actually increase by this amount, just that it can be banked for future use if needed.
The budget is actually adopted by a Resolution annually. In 2020, the budget was introduced in June with the adoption of Resolution 20-144. A copy of the introduced budget can be found on our website through a number of places: 1) Finance Department page; 2) Agendas & Minutes Center; 3) Calendar entry for Mayor & Council Meetings. The direct link to the budget as introduced is https://www.redbanknj.org/Archive.aspx?AMID=36 This year, because of the pandemic, revenues have fallen by millions of dollars. In light of this, Red Bank is facing the same dilemma as countless municipalities struggling to continue operating in the service to their constituents without any state or federal assistance. It is contradictory to complain about high taxes but then complain about reductions in services - taxpayers pay taxes for the services provided in a given year. To make further budget cuts across all departments would require cutting services. The gap between appropriations and revenues can only be closed through taxes or service amendments to reduce costs. Because of the nearly $2 million loss of revenues, discretionary expenses were cut almost entirely across the board without sacrificing services for the public. Appropriations have only increased by approximately $200,000 largely due to costs of insurance, pensions, and union employee contractual increases. Taxpayers can see on Page 4/Sheet 3 of the budget document that total appropriations for 2020 are $23,195,336 compared to last year at $22,993,815 (Page 5/Sheet 3a) - a mere 0.88% increase in spending.
A municipal budget is complex and must adhere to unique regulations that don’t apply to private sector budgets. Before adoption, it is subject to meticulous review and scrutiny by an independent auditing firm and the State Division of Local Government Services. The municipal budget is also one relatively small portion of a property tax bill, the only portion of the tax bill that the Mayor & Council can control. Almost three quarters of property taxes are out of the control of the Borough. That means only about 27 cents of every dollar paid in taxes is used to fund Borough services. For this reason, attempts to oversimplify the impact or changes of the annual municipal budget in a short headline with a percentage is not providing an adequate public service. Depending on which numbers are used in a comparison, the calculated percentages could vary greatly and each number tells a different story. For example, a comparison of appropriations provides a snapshot of spending changes. A comparison of the levy is another snapshot of the difference between appropriations and expected revenues. Both can reflect the fiscal policies of the Borough, but the calculations are further complicated when accounting for the “net valuation taxable” which is used to determine the tax rate. Tax appeals, property assessments, construction and more are all factors outside of the jurisdiction of the Mayor & Council that can affect the NVT, which then affects the tax rate, and these changes do not reflect the good (or bad) fiscal policies or controls of the Borough.
From the Society of Professional Journalists: “Journalists should provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarize a story. Journalists should gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story. Journalists should diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing. Journalists should never deliberately distort facts or context. Journalists should acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently.” The author of this blog post clearly did not attempt to adhere to the principles of ethical journalism and if their website is to be considered a news source, they have shirked their responsibility to the public.
Lastly, I would like to address rumors circulating that concern the frequency of garbage collection. A survey is planned to be published later this week asking the public about their use of garbage, recycling and bulk waste services ahead of our contract expiration in September. This was discussed at the June Council Workshop Meeting as a way to engage with the public. Residents will be receiving a postcard in the mail inviting them to take the survey. There is no vote on Wednesday, July 22nd to reduce garbage collection to once a week. We are transparent and Council agendas are listed on the website at https://www.redbanknj.org/agendacenter No such agenda item exists. No such vote has been discussed to take place and no decision has been made to change the garbage collection frequency - competitive bids by contractors have not yet been received and the survey has not yet been circulated to receive public input. A new contract is not expected to be considered until the August Council meeting after bids received and survey results tabulated.
Plain and simple, bad rumors are circulating about the budget and municipal services - selective information is being released publicly by individuals with predispositions and questionable agendas. It is irresponsibly creating fear and panic thereby doing more harm to the Borough than good. Attendance by the public at Council meetings is always welcome. Fortunately, the use of electronic meetings makes it easier to participate from home. (https://www.redbanknj.org/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=220) As Justice Brandeis said, "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." It’s time to shed light on the truth and a Council meeting is a wonderful venue to clean up the mess being made by some bad actors. As a general rule of thumb, it’s always best to reach out to ask questions and get the facts rather than depend on unreliable sources or social media rumors - we’re always available and welcome hearing from you! Just as my coworkers do, I take my job seriously and we are dedicated to serving the Red Bank community to the best of our ability with the only intention of doing what is best for the present and future of Red Bank. I am proud to work with such an amazing team and I am grateful for the hard work of Red Bank’s municipal employees. My e-mail address is email@example.com and my phone number is 732-530-2748.