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Township Budget Approved with Lowered Open Space Tax

The committee also discussed the interlocal animal control agreement with surrounding towns.

The Chatham Township Committee unanimously passed the 2011 municipal budget at its regular meeting Thursday night with a zero percent increase after amending it to reflect the lowered Open Space Tax.

At the committee meeting on March 24, the for 2011, a move which enabled the 2011 tax rate to remain flat from last year. The Open Space Tax reverts to 2 cents per dollar each year and serves to fill the Open Space Reserve, which is primarily used to purchase properties that become available within the municipality that the committee wants to preserve as open space. 

After completing all the scheduled open space purchases that the committee currently wishes to buy, Committeeman Bill O'Connor said the Open Space tax would still collect roughly $160,000 for the fund this year and there will remain a balance of $750,000. A bonding mechanism exists as part of the reserve as well, and the committee can also apply for grants through Morris County by June 24.

Nora Parker, the vice president of St. Hubert's, addressed the committee regarding the decision to move the town's animal control services contract from the nonprofit organization to an interlocal agreement with Madison, Harding, Livingston, New Providence and Millburn, which Millburn. This agreement would provide services at an hourly rate at $43.02.

Township Administrator Tom Ciccarone introduced the ordinance at the March 24 meeting, saying that the Board of Directors at St. Hubert's recently decided to stop funding a municipal service, and the animal shelter told Chatham Township they would have to charge a fee based on the town's population rather than a per-call rate. Such a fee, Ciccarone said, would cost the township over $20,000.

The interlocal agreement, based on calculations done using the number of hours St. Hubert's spent last year on services in the township, would be under $10,000, according to Ciccarone. The contract has a condition that the cumulative amount to be billed for the year is not to exceed $20,000.

Parker said she understood the committee's reasons behind their decision to leave  St. Hubert's and that "we would welcome the township back again" if they were dissatisfied with the new arrangement. She said that if there was anything St. Hubert's could do to help township residents, as an organization located within the municipality they would be happy to help.

Committee Member Bailey Brower expressed dismay at the sudden increase in St. Hubert's rates, which the organization had not negotiated to a lower price. He said, "People have to realize that when they donate money to St. Hubert's, it's not being used in Chatham Township," and that such behavior from a nonprofit which did not pay taxes to the municipality was "just not going to fly in a place like Chatham Township."

Parker said that other municipalities had switched animal control service providers before, and that some of them had come across problems when it came to deciding what to do with animals that were picked up and unclaimed for longer than a week.

It is New Jersey law that animal control shelters must keep found animals for a minimum of seven days to give the owners a chance to claim them. The township pays for this at a per day rate, according to the Township Committee. After those seven days are over the animals can be prepared for adoption or euthanized, depending on the contracts and whether the municipality pays for the animals to be housed or not.

Mayor Nicole Hagner and Ciccarone looked over the proposed contract and saw that there was no language addressing what would happen to the animals after the seven day period. Parker said she knew of many municipalities that had estimated the cost of housing animals at a certain amount, "and then they found it to be much greater because they were paying for these animals after seven days,' she said.

The committee agreed to hold off approving the contract until the April 28 meeting to give themselves time to address the issue with the other towns.

The committee also approved a resolution appointing and swearing in Anthony Loporto as a police officer in the township.

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