FRANKLIN — The Borough Council approved an extension of the grace period for residents to pay their second-quarter taxes and a measure which will raise third-quarter estimated taxes.


The grace period approved Wednesday was a follow-up to Gov. Phil Murphy announcing an executive order earlier in the day giving authority to governing bodies to extend the grace period as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.


In New Jersey, it is the local municipality which is responsible for collecting property taxes levied by local school districts and counties as well as municipal taxes.


The payments are broken down into quarters with one of the payments due on May 1. There is a 10-day “grace period” in which late fees and interest are not charged.


Because of the economic hardships brought on by stay-at-home orders and closing businesses, Murphy’s order allows local governing bodies to extend the grace period until June 1.


However, any payments made on or after June 2 are subject to the full interest accrued since May 1.


The council approved the extension by a 6-0 vote.


However, on the second tax issue there was longer discussion and disagreement.


In New Jersey, the state and municipalities are on different fiscal calendars with the state and school districts operating on a fiscal year from July 1-June 30. Municipal budgets are on a Jan. 1-Dec. 31 calendar.


The state’s aid formulas are set with the July 1 budget, although in most years the amount of local aid is agreed-to shortly after the state budget is introduced in late January.


As a result, municipal and county budgets don’t get approved until spring. Franklin has yet to introduce its 2020 budget which is still in discussion in the council’s Finance Committee.


In a normal year, the Feb. 1 and May 1 tax payments are “estimated” based on past years’ budgets. Once the local, county and school budgets are approved, the Aug. 1 and Nov. 1 tax payments are adjusted to account for actual numbers.


However, with the pandemic, the state two weeks ago extended its own fiscal year until Sept. 30, leaving an open question on what local aid will be. The local budget deadlines were also extended although some entities, such as Sussex County, have already approved their 2020 budgets.


As part of the state’s budget extension, municipalities were given authority to also estimate the Aug. 1 quarterly payment, meaning any final adjustment would come in the Nov. 1 bill.


Borough Chief Financial Officer Deborah Bonanno said the state also allowed up to a 5 percent increase over last year’s Aug. 1 payment be added to the “estimated” August payment. That leaves any final adjustment to the Nov. 1 tax bill.


Councilman Joe Limon set off the discussion by suggesting there not be an increase for the Aug. 1 “estimate,” arguing that many taxpayers might not be able to pay an increase.


In the conversation there was concern that with the economic downturn there may be a number of taxpayers who won’t pay their May 1 bill, leaving the borough short on money to pay its own bills.


Tax bills often are paid by mortgage holders who collect the taxes as part of the monthly mortgage payment.


However, Bonanno said in Franklin only about 10 percent of tax payments are made by mortgage companies, with nine-in-ten property owners making their own quarterly tax payments.


Limon renewed his argument to keep the Aug. 1 estimate “level” without an increase.


Councilman Joe Postas said the council should look at a worst-case scenario, when taxpayers “could be really strapped” in the third and fourth quarters.


Councilman Stephen Zydon said without raising the third quarter, “people could be getting hammered at the end of the year,” with a bigger increase in the quarterly payment.


Postas said the Finance Committee discussed the issue and agreed the estimated bill be increased by 3.5 percent.


The committee is looking at a budget with no increase, but committee chairman Councilman Concetto Formica said there is some concern that state aid will get lowered because the state is looking at less revenue itself.


Limon argued that raising the estimated payment in a time of economic hardship “is a bad look for us. It doesn’t feel right, you know.”


Zydon, noting that the November payment would make the final adjustment, said, “You can pay me now (Aug. 1) or later, (Nov. 1).”


On the vote, Limon and Councilman Gil Snyder were opposed and the matter was approved by a 4-2 vote.


The council approved a new, two-year contract with Aquatic Technologies, Inc., in the amount of $25,754.00, to treat Franklin Pond to retard aquatic weed growth.


The pond is created by a dam on the Wallkill River, which does flood some areas where there is little flow and an ideal place for weeds to grow.


Zydon questioned the amount but was told by Borough Administrator Alison McHose that the company had been treating the pond for years and had the knowledge of which areas are troublesome.


She also noted this was the first time the borough had a two-year contract with the firm and got a slight discount over what the yearly rate had been.


The pond was created by the old Zinc Company to provide a constant water supply for its needs. The pond also served at one time as the borough’s water supply.


The council approved hiring Matthew J. Giacobbe of Cleary, Giacobbe, Alfieri, Jacobs, as its new labor attorney.


The borough is involved in two labor issues involving police officers who are contesting their dismissal from the force.


In one case, involving Jeffrey Snyder there is reportedly a settlement agreement which has yet to be approved by the council.


Snyder is son of Councilman Gilbert Snyder, who spoke during the discussion but only about paying two labor attorneys at the same time.


He abstained from voting on the hiring, which was approved by a 5-0 vote.


The other case is police Lt. Jeffrey Smith, who is also suspended pending outcome of his disciplinary hearing.


Giacobbe replaces Arthur Thibault, who was hired in early January 2019 for these two cases.


At that time, it was said that Borough Attorney John Ursin would represent Franklin in future disciplinary cases.