BELVIDERE, N.J. - "Look both ways before you cross the street." That's what we always tell our kids. But is it safe for students to cross the road on their own? That's what one New Jersey town is debating.
For a town of fewer than three thousand people, Belvidere, in Warren Co., can get pretty busy. That's why a packed house showed up Tuesday night, urging Town Council not to cut Belvidere's five crossing guards.
The town added guards a few years back after a student was killed trying to get to school. Now though, with a massive tax hike on the table, Belvidere's five crossing guards could be on the chopping block.
"My 11 year-old wrote, 'Do not get rid of the crossing guards,'" said parent Tricia Bronico. "'Even though I'm 11, I still need them. Most days, we walk home from school with crazy maniac high schoolers flying down the road, blaring music, and not paying attention.'"
Residents could face a nearly 15 percent tax increase if council doesn't cut the budget. They already swallowed a 12 percent hike last year, on top of seeing garbage service cut.
Council members want to get the tax hike down to about six percent; cutting crossing guards would get them more than halfway there. The guards cost Belvidere about $62,000 a year.
"That's what we need -- a tax decrease," said resident Robert Blum. "It's time for council to sharpen their pencils and make the cuts that we need as taxpayers."
But the town is out of money and has little else to cut.
"We also don't have -- literally do not have any surplus to pull from," said Belvidere Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Reinalda. "There's nothing left."
Still, most council members are wary of eliminating crossing guards. One suggested asking the Belvidere School District, which also covers neighboring communities, to pay for three of them.
"We have the possibility of having teachers do it, and I've seen that done in other school systems," said council member Harold Hess.
But others said, no matter who employs the guards, residents will still pay for them.
"You're just moving taxes from here to the school board," said councilman Joe Kennedy. "So we're either going to pay for it here or we're going to pay for it at the school board."
Tuesday night's meeting was only a preliminary budget discussion. Council members also discussed merging Belvidere's municipal court with neighboring White Twp. to save money, as well as shifting some police schedules.
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