Primary politics at the forefront as Palisades Park votes to table budget

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PALISADES PARK — With the borough’s first contested mayoral primary in decades on the horizon, officials last week opted to table the 2018 budget during a heated meeting where the debate turned decidedly political.

The budget was introduced in April with the understanding that changes would be made, but no agreement could be reached in time for the second reading, on May 22.

Mayor James Rotundo cited an unusually high tax increase — about $200 on the average home — in suggesting it be tabled. The annual increase on municipal taxes is typically less than $100.

The meeting had the opposing campaigns of Rotundo and Councilman Chris Chung ever-present as the two candidates openly argued during the budget talks.

When members of the public had the chance to speak, campaign literature was brought up: A flier circulating in the borough had suggested Chung was primarily responsible for the budget. Things devolved from there.

“These continuous attacks that say ‘Chris Chung is responsible for the budget’ are ridiculous,” Chung said. “One councilman does not make a town budget.”

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Chung went on to say that he was never appointed chairman of the finance committee, a role previously held by the late Councilman Joe Testa. Rotundo appointed Councilwoman Cynthia Pirrera to the post at the borough’s April 24 meeting, after the budget had been introduced.

Rotundo pointed out that Chung was second in charge of the finance committee and, with Testa ill late last year and dying in January, the responsibility was Chung’s.

“For the last several months he [Testa] was not there so it fell to Chris,” Rotundo said. “He’s denying it, but that’s his inexperience. He should have stepped up.”

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