Late county taxes cause $12K in fees; CFO blamed

HILLSIDE. NJ — Hillside paid their county taxes nearly two months late resulting in nearly $13,000 in fines, according to the county, and the finger is being pointed squarely at the previous CFO.

According to Union County Communications Director Sebastian D’Elia, Hillside sent a $2.1 million check for county taxes two days late on Aug. 17, “but then had to do a stop payment.”

“Another check was not reissued until Sept. 23 for the taxes, and a late fee was assessed for $12,686.90, which was subsequently paid by Hillside on Oct. 9,” said D’Elia.

LocalSource was unable to reach Mayor Angela Garretson or Councilman At-Large Sip Whitaker for comment before press time, but in an article by NJ.com reported both individuals blamed the company that provided CFO services for the township.
The company that provided the CFO services is Donahue, Gironda & Doria of Bayonne. The firm sent Mauricio Canto and a few other employees to work in Hillside, including Lou Garbaccio, who served as deputy CFO.

Canto could not be reached before press time, but Garbaccio spoke with LocalSource briefly last week.
“Mauricio dealt with that directly,” he said. “It didn’t get processed timely. The tax bills were held up because the county didn’t get a certified rate to the township. While the bill was processed and approved on the mayor and council’s bills list, there wasn’t funding, so the stop was issued. The tax bills went out late, because we were waiting on the county to give us a certified tax levy.”

The issue, however, may date back further, and the county has pushed back saying the blame does not lay at their feet.
According to D’Elia, Hillside adopted their municipal budget on June 1 and a copy was delivered to the Tax Board shortly thereafter. The budget is supposed to be finalized by the very beginning of May.

Councilwoman Diane Murray, who is the chair of the Finance Committee, was asked about the late budget.
“The budget was late because the CFO had already put the budget together, but we did not get access to the budget until January,” said Murray. “The CFO said they gave it to the mayor to sign off on it, and that took about a month. I know as the finance chair of the committee that we asked for the budget multiple times and we did not get it until very late.”

Still, the budget may have been late, but later documents were also not properly filed, according to the county.
On Aug. 14 – just days before the county taxes were due – the County Tax Board received, via fax from the Department of Community Affairs, Hillside’s budget approval certification so they can do a tax rate, according to D’Elia. By law, he said, the county tax board cannot certify a tax rate until the Department of Community Affairs sends the tax board that approval letter.

Normally, D’Elia said, this approval letter would come shortly after the municipal budget adoption and submission of the budget to the Department of Community Affairs. However, in this instance the DCA did not send budget approval until Aug. 14 “because the CFO for Hillside failed to submit a User Friendly Budget to DCA as part of their protocol,” said D’Elia.

“That was the reason DCA held up Hillside’s approval letter and the tax board could not strike a rate,” said D’Elia. “The statute requires municipalities to have their budgets adopted and submitted to the boards by May. Hillside adopted their budget late.”

Once the tax board received approval from the DCA, the county had a certified tax rate to Hillside “four business days later,” said D’Elia. Hillside was the last town in the county to get a certified tax rate, and the only two other towns were late in paying taxes. Roselle and Plainfield were each a day late and incurred minor fines.