Budget Cuts Hit Close To Home, Badgered Local Officials Find Residents Are Worried What Will Happen. "Right Now, There's A Total Frustration From People, Like They're Searching For An Answer And Can't Seem To Find It."

Posted: June 25, 1992

When Anthony Clark went to the store for some milk and eggs this week, he was quickly reminded that he's a local politician.

He had hoped to be in and out in a matter of minutes. Instead, the Waterford Township deputy mayor spent more than a half-hour answering questions from constituents worried about what the budget battle in Trenton will mean to their local services and taxes.

They wanted to know: Will there be fewer police officers on the street next year? Will local workers be laid off? Will property taxes be raised?

Clark wished he knew.

"We're the one level of government that has direct access to the people," he said. "Right now, there's a total frustration from people, like they're searching for an answer and can't seem to find it."

The Republican-controlled legislature is scheduled to vote today on plans to slash Gov. Florio's $15.7 billion budget by $1.1 billion. Although the full impact of those cuts remained unclear, municipal officials fear the results might be a heavier financial burden for cities and towns and higher local taxes.

"Hard choices will have to be made. We anticipate some cuts and some tax increases," William G. Dressel, the assistant executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, said yesterday.

State aid to municipalities would remain unchanged from this year, which local officials said would likely force them to make cuts or raise taxes to cover the rising costs of government.

State police officials say the cuts will mean the agency will have to begin charging communities that rely on state troopers for patrols. Fifteen towns in Burlington County and two in Gloucester County use state police for full- or part-time patrols.

And Camden, Essex and Hudson Counties are expected to lose $4 million for job-training programs for welfare recipients, which means the programs would have to be eliminated, scaled back or paid for by the counties.

"Cities have been repositories for every (social) program, so when you hit these programs, you increase the burden on cities," said Assemblyman Wayne R. Bryant (D., Camden).

For Hainesport in Burlington County, the cuts would mean taxpayers might have to pick up the tab for state police protection they now enjoy without charge.

Just last year, the Township Council voted to eliminate its police department. Costing almost $400,000 a year, it was getting too expensive for the township of 3,000 people.

In Moorestown, there is concern that any loss of state revenue could trigger an increase in property taxes. The 17,000-resident community has ''very little room to move without a tax increase," Township Manager John T. Terry said.

And in Berlin Township in Camden County, Mayor Thomas J. DiGangi said any cuts in state assistance probably would have to be countered by a ''combination of taxes and cutbacks. . . . If we have to cut into services, and then we're talking about police officers and other services."

Whether in his music store or picking up groceries, DiGangi often finds

himself fielding questions these days from worried citizens.

Like Clark, Waterford's deputy mayor, DiGangi wished he had all the answers.

"You never know what you're going to have next year or the year after that, and that means the taxpayer doesn't know what he is going to have from one year to the next," DiGangi said. "One branch of government can't pass it on to the next, because the bottom line is that it still comes out of the taxpayer's pocket."

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