April 17th Meeting Summary
Last night we had a Town Council meeting, which did not wrap up for us until after midnight! Here is what we discussed.
We passed our municipal budget for 2023 with a vote 5-0. Our budget is set at $27.1 million for 2023, $17.5 of which will be raised by municipal taxes, an increase of only 1.66%. This is great news for our community. As I stated last night, I want to thank our Township Manager and CFO for working hard on this budget. This budget reflects a great effort by our administration to keep expenses controlled in an high-inflation environment. I am excited that in this budget, we can expand our police force by two officers and backfill key open positions in several departments, while still keeping a low tax impact. This addresses some concerns that I have heard from our Township Administration that our staffing levels in several departments in the Township are not adequate. When we have too lean of a staff, it can impact our ability to keep up with state mandates, code enforcement, and the high level of service that our residents have come to expect from the Township. This budget makes a step in the right direction to address some staffing issues.
Last night, we also made a very significant decision to enter into a shared service agreement with North Caldwell and Essex Fells for municipal court services. This will result in Verona downsizing our staff and saving over $100,000. This vote was a very difficult decision for me, as we have a very well functioning court and fantastic staff. However, the pandemic did fundamentally change how municipal courts function, as now the majority of trials are virtual. This allowed a shared service arrangement with another community to be much for financially advantageous. Verona did not have adequate space to be the host of this agreement, which is why we are now going to outsource our court to North Caldwell. The agreement on this does allow us to retain some control on who is hired, but the court employees will be employees of North Caldwell. I look forward to this partnership with North Caldwell and Essex Fells.
Last night we had a public hearing on an ordinance to increase the bond for the ADA Ramp project at town hall from $!95K to $320K. We did something unusual last night and suspended the public hearing on this bond ordinance until the next meeting. Prior to taking this action we went into a rare, mid-meeting closed session to discuss some legal matters. At our next meeting we will resume the public hearing for this bond ordinance and will have a public discussion on why this bond has been proposed to increase.
As part of our addendum, we introduced an ordinance to set the salary of our Tax Collector/Deputy Treasurer (our CFO) at $130K. A hearing on this salary change will be at our next meeting.
We also took action, as part of the addendum, to allow for another delay in transferring the property on our 100% affordable housing project to the developer. The property transfer date has been delayed until December 31, 2023. This means that any construction to build this affordable housing has been delayed to 2024.
Other maters we took action on included authorizing our agreement with Millennium Strategies for grant writing services. We also passed a resolution affirming our commitment to a corrective action plan based on a report that Verona was mentioned in by the State Comptroller about the payout of accrued sick leave payments and vacation time.
In new business, we talked about the following items:
Jitney service - after reviewing the existing NJ Transit bus service, the Council will not be proceeding with developing a jitney service for residents to get to the Bay Street train station. The Township will instead promote existing public bus transportation that already goes there. We don't feel Verona could duplicate the buss service at NJ Transit is already providing for an affordable price. I encourage residents to review the NJ Transit 29 bus line for the schedule to and from Bay Street.
EV Charging Fees - last night we agreed to a new EV charging station fee schedule. The new fees will be $1 per hour while charging, which is basically "break even" for the Township on electric vehicle charging. The free charge for the first two hours of charging that is currently offered will be eliminated. If a car then leaves their vehicle plugged in and in the space after it is done charging, they will have a 59 minute grace period to move their car. After 1 hr it will be charged $5. After two hours there will be a $30 charge. Every hour after that there will be a $5 additional charge. We are structuring the fees this way to incent EV car owners to move their cars once their charging is done. This is to address problems we are currently facing with these spaces. This ordinance will be introduced at the next meeting.
Invasive species ordinance - the Council discussed the Environmental Commission's proposal for an invasive species ordinance, and we decided to move ahead with the creation of one. Bamboo, poison ivy, and Japanese knotweed are all examples of invasive species that will be covered under this ordinance.
Codifying the Multicultural Inclusion and Accessibility Advisory Committee - As you may recall, the MIAAC committee was set up by resolution over a year ago to help the Township live our our diversity mission statement, which can be found here. Last night we discussed codifying, or making permanent, the MIAAC committee. We had a robust discussion. We are making some changes to the wording of the proposed ordinance to ensure that it provides the Township Manager flexibility in whom from his/her team is appointed to the MIAAC. Some members of Council asked for some financial data on what the events are costing the Township. The Council agreed to give the MIAAC committee direction to come back to us with recommendations on what disability inclusion activities the Township should be focused on. This ordinance will be discussed further at our next meeting, as we would like to codify this committee before July 1st.
We went into Executive session last night as well.
Those are the highlights from our meeting. If you have any feedback for the Council, please let us know by submitting a comment to us all here: https://www.veronanj.org/councilcontactform .