An ordinance calling for an amendment to the tax code allowing for term limits for the Township Auditor was tabled by Galloway Township Council Tuesday night, Feb. 12, despite the insistence of Councilman Jim Gorman that it only needed a few minor changes prior to a vote.
In fact, Gorman and Councilman Jim McElwee voted against tabling the proposal. However, the matter was postponed by a 5-2 vote.
“It’s not rocket science,” Gorman said. “If you want a four-year limit and the majority agrees, that’s fine.”
He also agreed that the ordinance doesn’t have to be retroactive, but the majority of council felt there were too many issues to consider before voting.
The ordinance calls for a term limit for the position of tax auditor, a position that’s been held by Leon Costello for over 10 years. Costello was reappointed to the position at January’s reorganization meeting, by a 5-2 vote. Gorman and McElwee were the dissenting voices on that night, as well, voting in favor of Bowman and Company.
The Township Auditor is a sub-contractor, and the position goes out to bid every year. The proposal calls for three or four year term-limits, but there was some discussion as to when the ordinance would take effect; if it would be retroactive; how long term limits should be; hw future councils will be impacted by this decision; and if other appointments will also be subject to term limits.
“There are too many what ifs,” Mayor Don Purdy said, adding he agreed with the idea that the auditor shouldn’t become too comfortable and form close friendships with the people he’s providing financial advice to over long periods of time.
There was discussion of extending the term of Costello’s current contract, and setting the ordinance up to take effect once that term expired.
“There are a lot of issues in the township,” Solicitor Michael Fitzgerald said. “You might want to consider whether you want to make this change (in the middle of all the township’s issues).”
All seven members of council emphasized that the decision to install term limits is no reflection on Costello.
“If past councils had listened to Leon, we’d be in a better place today,” Gorman said.
As the voice of the township for over a decade, much of Costello’s advice fell on deaf ears. He advised the township on how to avoid layoffs and falling into the economic state the township currently finds itself in.
“Our present auditor had a roadmap that we are now following that we were not following before,” Councilman Brian Tyrrell said. “It takes a few years to implement some of these things.”
“No one was reading the map before,” Township Manager Arch Liston said.
Councilman and former Mayor Tom Bassford expressed regret at not heeding Costello’s advice previously.
“A lot of us were so adamant against raising taxes,” Bassford said. “I didn’t want to raise taxes when things were going well. Then a shockwave hit.”
That “shockwave” resulted in two years of furlough days and recent layoffs of township employees, including a massive reduction and restructuring in the police department.
“It’s good to have checks and balances,” McElwee said.
“It makes sense to have a change every couple of years,” Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola said.
“There are municipalities who’ve had the same auditor for over 60 years,” Liston said. “A fresh set of eyes always helps.”
The basis for the proposal came from the 2008 report issued by State Comptroller A. Matthew Boxer. In the report, Boxer recommends term limits of five years, but that recommendation wasn’t passed.
Former Township Clerk Lisa Tilton stated during the public comment portion of the meeting that council was misrepresenting facts, stating it isn’t necessary for the position to be bid out every year, and that the township must employ a municipal accountant. Costello could be considered for that position, she said.
The township was considering implementation of three-year term limits, currently used by Atlantic County. However, Fitzgerald pointed out there is no set number of years, leading to some confusion over how long term limits should be.
There was a lot to consider, and ultimately, the proposal was tabled so the council could form a committee for further consideration.