Auditor Says Township Finances 'Strong'
Auditor credits pay-as-you-go spending rather than borrowing, and good financial management.
The auditor who on Tuesday presented the latest auditing report for Bernards Township's finances said the municipality is in a perhaps uniquely strong financial position. He also told the Township Committee he could find no areas of weakness in the administration's financial management or controls.
Following a close look at the township's finances and accounting procedures for 2010, Robert Morrison, a principal with Hodulik and Morrison of Highland Park, said he could not find one area to recommend improvements as part of the report.
"That's a first for us," Morrison told the Township Committee.
More often, he said beforehand and later, he has been approaching other towns with "bad news" about their financial situation, such as an eroding tax base. The tax values in Bernards Township have held up relatively well, he said.
Morrison said Bernards' "best practice" is its "pay as you go" plan for capital spending with avoiding debt, which he said saddles many towns.
By doing so, the township has saved taxpayers "millions of dollars" that would have been spent on interest payments over the past several years, said Morrison. He said he has been auditing the township's finances for five years.
Mayor John Malay and other officials noted that on Nov. 1, the township will have paid off the last of its debts, other than open space purchases that are funded by the separate open space tax.
Township officials have planned a "bond fire" at 6:30 p.m. this Saturday on the lawn of the municipal building at 1 Collyer Lane in downtown Basking Ridge. Officials said they will burn in effigy the last municipal bond, which is being retired this month.
Morrison said Township Administrator Bruce McArthur and the administrative and financial staff also were in total compliance with following governmental regulations and keeping track of finances.
"In summary, you couldn't do much better than you have been doing," Morrison told officials.
His one warning was that in the current economic situation, "It isn't going to get any easier." Morrison said that careful planning for the future will be key.
"I suspect you will be fine, and I would be happy to say that to all my clients," Morrison added. He later said he is auditor for 25 towns in New Jersey.
"This town is the gold standard for New Jersey," he said following the meeting.
Malay also credited earlier officials, including former Township Committee Member Gail Ann Barth, with initiating the pay-as-you-go philosophy for capital improvement expenditures in the late 90s.