August 21st Meeting Summary
I am back from some time away from Verona, and last night we had a Council Meeting. Here are the highlights.
We spent some time debriefing on Verona's recent Water Emergency. Our Town Manager produced a report with several "lessons learned" from the emergency and plans to strengthen and improve communications during future events. Highlights include developing protocols for communications for emergencies, ensuring that multiple Township employees have access to key communication systems, improvements to our Alert Verona system, and specific communication reach outs to the business community and management of multi-family buildings. Residents can continue to provide feedback to the Council and Township manager on how we can do better with communication (or any matter), and I thank all of the residents who did take the time to reach out to us.
I appreciate the Administration's reflection on what could have gone better with this month's event, and I am confident that the Township will have an improved communication approach if we have an emergency in the future. I will point out that over the last eight years, total Township staff has been reduced repeatedly - and right now we are understaffed as we wait for the hiring of a Deputy Township Manager position, Zoning officer, and a few other open positions. I am concerned that we are actually too thinly staffed for the enormous workload required by local governments and the high level of service our residents expect. I was one of the Council members who supported the creation of the part time Personal Information Officer position - which as it turns out was a really important position to have on staff. I think appropriate staffing - and how to fund those positions through revenue expansion - is going to be an important conversation for the Council to have in the future.
Last night we also had a conversation with our Police Chief on the evolving issue of groups of youth driving through Verona on motorbikes and ATV's. We are all concerned about preserving resident safety during these events, and our police force is partnering with other towns and the County and State to try to come up with a solution. We also discussed some possible legislative solutions - but the options we have on a local level to address this issue need some further analysis and consideration on what would be the most effective.
Our Township Manager did update the Council on a significant meeting he had with the Essex County Engineer on several projects, most of them safety related. We did get a verbal commitment that the Bloomfield Avenue light review will start in 2024, with 2025 implementation. We are all eagerly awaiting that project to begin. It is also expected that the County will put a light on Fairview and Personette and make some minor safety improvements at the entrance of Verona Park. The Township Manager also confirmed that the County owns the land that the parking lot next to the pool, and we cannot build a pickleball/tennis court there, nor can we have access to "Prisoners Pond" up on Hilltop. The Town Manager is reviewing other potential solutions for the pickleball/tennis court renovation. Finally our Manager gave the Engineer an analysis produced by our Neighborhood Traffic and Safety Committee and asked for the County's help with implementing some of their recommendations.
In new business, we also had a discussion on a potential development on the property located on Bloomfield formerly known as Verona Aluminum. The owner of that building would like to build a project that conforms with our current zoning, but is seeing a PILOT. The first step to get a PILOT is to conduct a study of the areas to see if it qualifies as an "area in need of redevelopment". The Council had a brief conversation on this in public (about 1 hr 5 minutes into the meeting) and asked the property owner to come back and make a presentation on the proposed project so that we can learn more.
At this meeting, we passed an ordinance regulating parking at Everett Field, and proposed an ordinance appropriating $11K to fix the elevator at the Community Center, and we accepted the VMAC's grant. We also went into Executive Session.
Please note: The Council has two "special" meetings coming up that the public is invited to attend. On Friday, August 25th at 3 pm, on Zoom, we will be interviewing Township Planners. On Thursday, August 29th at 7 pm we will have a goal setting session. Our next regularly scheduled meeting is September 11th at 7 pm.
If you have any questions on this meeting or feedback for the Council, you can reach out to us here: https://www.veronanj.org/council.